Netherlands – Arnheim To Bergen-Op-Zoom

AT Arnheim we come to a totally new Holland. The Maliebaan and the park at Utrecht, with their spacious residences, had prepared us a little for Arnheim’s wooded retirement ; but not completely. Rotterdam is given to shipping ; The Hague makes laws and fashions ; Leyden and Utrecht teach ; Amsterdam makes money. It is at Arnheim that the retired merchant and the returned colonist set up their home. It is the richest residential city in the country. Arnheim the Joyous was its old name. Arnheim the Comfortable it might now be styled.

It is the least Dutch of Dutch towns : the Rhine brings a bosky beauty to it, German in character and untamed by Dutch restraining hands. The Dutch Switzerland the country hereabout is called. Arnheim recalls Richmond too, for it has a Richmond Hill—a terrace-road above a shaggy precipice overlooking the river.

I walked in the early morning to Klarenbeck, up and down in a vast wood, and at a point of vantage called the Steenen Tafel looked down on the Rhine valley. Nothing could be less like the Holland of the earlier days of my wanderings—nothing, that is, that was around me, but with the farther bank of the river the flatness instantly begins and continues as far as one can see in the north.

It was a very beautiful morning in May, and as I rested now and then among the resinous pines I was conscious of being traitorous to England in wandering here at all. No one ought to be out of England in April and May. At one point I met a squirrel—just such a nimble short-tempered squirrel as those which scold and hide in the top branches of the fir trees near my own home—and my sense of guilt increased ; but when, on my way back, in a garden near Arnheim I heard a nightingale, the treachery was complete.

And this reminds me that the best poem of the most charming figure in Dutch literature—Tesselschade Visscher —is about the nightingale. The story of this poetess and her friends belongs more properly to Amsterdam, or to Alkmaar, but it may as well be told here while the Arnheim nightingale—the only nightingale that I heard in Holland —is plaining and exulting.

Tesselschade was the daughter of the poet and rhetorician Roemer Visscher. She was born on 25th March, 1594, and earned her curious name from the circumstance that on the same day her father was wrecked off Texel. In honour of his rescue he named his daughter Tesselschade, or Texel wreck, thereby, I think, eternally impairing his right to be considered a true poet. As a matter of fact he was rather an epigrammatist than a poet, his ambition being to be known as the Dutch Martial. Here is a taste of his Martial manner :

Jan sorrows—sorrows far too much : ’tis true A sad affliction bath distressed his life; Mourns he that death hath ta’en his children two ? O no I he mourns that death hath left his wife.

I have said that Visscher was a rhetorician. The word perhaps needs a little explanation, for it means more than would appear. In those days rhetoric was a living cult in the Netherlands : Dutchmen and Flemings played at rhetoric with some of the enthusiasm that we keep for cricket and sport. Every town of any importance had its Chamber of Rhetoric. ” These Chambers,” says Long-fellow in his Poets and Poetry of Europe, ” were to Holland, in the fifteenth century, what the Guilds of the Meister-singers were to Germany, and were numerous throughout the Netherlands. Brussels could boast of five ; Antwerp of four ; Louvain of three ; and Ghent, Bruges, Malines, Middelburg, Gouda, Haarlem, and Amsterdam of at least one. Each Chamber had its coat of arms and its standard, and the directors bore the title of Princes and Deans. At times they gave public representations of poetic dialogues and stage-plays, called Spelen van Sinne, or Moralities. Like the Meistersingers, they gave singular titles to their songs and metres. A verse was called a Regel ; a strophe, a Clause ; and a burden or refrain, a Stockregel. If a half-verse closed as a strophe, it was a Steert, or tail. Tafelspelen, and Spelen van Sinne, were the titles of the dramatic exhibitions ; and the rhymed invitation to these was called a Charte, or Uitroep (outcry). Ketendichten (chain-poems) are short poems in which the last word of each line rhymes with the first of the line following ; Scaekberd (checkerbourd), a poem of sixty-four lines, so rhymed, that in every direction it forms a strophe of eight lines ; and Dobbel-steert (double-tail), a poem in which a double rhyme closes each line.

The example of Flanders was speedily followed by Zee-land and Holland. In 1430, there was a Chamber at Middelburg ; in 1433, at Vlaardingen ; in 1434, at Nieuwkerk; and in 1437, at Gouda. Even insignificant Dutch villages had their Chambers. Among others, one was founded in the Lier, in the year 1480. In the remaining provinces they met with less encouragement. They existed, however, at Utrecht, Amersfoort, Leeuwarden,. and Hasselt. The purity of the language was completely undermined by the rhyming self-called Rhetoricians, and their abandoned courses brought poetry itself into disrepute. All distinction of genders was nearly abandoned ; the original abundance of words ran waste ; and that which was left became completely overwhelmed by a torrent of barbarous terms.”

Wagenaer, in his “Description of Amsterdam,” gives a copy of a painter’s bill for work done for a rhetorician’s performance at the play-house in the town of Alkmaar, of which the following is a translation :

” Imprimis, made for the Clerks a Hell ; Item, the Pavilion of Satan ; Item, two pairs of Devil’s-breeches ; Item, a Shield for the Christian Knight ;

“With the Rederijkern,” Longfellow adds, “Hood’s amusing ‘ Nocturnal Sketch’ would have been a Driedobbelsteert, or a poem with three tails

Even is come ; and from the dark park, hark, The signal of the setting sun, one gun t And six is sounding from the chime, prime time To go and see the Drury-Lane Dane slain. Anon Night comes, and with her wings brings things Such as with his poetic tongue Young sung.” Item, have painted the Devils whenever they played; item, some Arrows and other small matters. Sum total ; worth in all xii. guilders.


” Paid, October viii., 95 (1495).”

Among the Dutch pictures at the Louvre is an anonymous work representing the Committee of a Chamber of Rhetoric.

Roemer Visscher, the father of the poetess, was a leading rhetorician at Amsterdam, and the president of the Eglantine Chamber of the Brother’s Blossoming in Love (as he and his fellow-rhetoricians called themselves). None the less, he was a sensible and clever man, and he brought up his three daughters very wisely. He did not make them blue stockings, but saw that they acquired comely and useful arts and crafts, and he rendered them unique by teaching them to swim in the canal that ran through his garden. He also was enabled to ensure for them the company of the best poetical intellects of the time—Vondel and Brederoo, Spiegel, Hooft and Huyghens.

Of these the greatest was Joost van den Vondel, a neighbour of Visscher’s in Amsterdam, the author of Lucifer,” a poem from which it has been suggested that Milton borrowed. Like Izaak Walton Vondel combined haberdashery with literature. Spiegel was a wealthy patron of the arts, and a president, with Visscher, of the Eglantine Chamber with the painfully sentimental name. Constantin H uyghens wrote light verse with intricate metres, and an occasional epigram. Here is one :


When Peter condescends to write, His verse deserves to see the light. If any further you inquire, I mean—the candle or the fire.

Also a practical statesman, it was to Huyghens that Holland owes the beautiful old road from The Hague to Scheveningen in which Jacob Cats built his house.

Among these friends Anna and Tesselschade grew into cultured women of quick and sympathetic intellect. Both wrote poetry, but Tesselschade’s is superior to her sister’s. Among Anna’s early work were some additions to a new edition of her father’s Zinne-Poppen, one of her poems running thus in the translation by Mr. Edmund Gosse in the very pleasant essay on Tesselschade in his Studies in the Literature of Northern Europe :

A wife that sings and pipes all day, And never puts her lute away, No service to her hand finds she ; Fie, fie ! for this is vanity !

But is it not a heavenly sight To see a, woman take delight With song or string her husband dear, When daily work is done, to cheer ?

Misuse may turn the sweetest sweet To loathsome wormwood, I repeat ; Yea, wholesome medicine, full of grace, May prove a poison—out of place.

They who on thoughts eternal rest, With earthly pleasures may be blest; Since they know well these shadows gay, Like wind and smoke, will pass away.

Tesselschade, who was much loved by her poet friends, disappointed them all by marrying a dull sailor of Alkmaar named Albert Krombalgh. Settling down at Alkmaar, she continued her intercourse with her old companions, and some new ones, by letter. Among her new friends were Barlaeus, or Van Baerle, the first Latinist of the day, and Jacob Cats. When her married life was cut short some few years later, Barlaeus proposed to the young widow; but it was in vain, as she informed him by quoting from Cats these lines :

When a valvèd shell of ocean Breaks one side or loses one, Though you seek with all devotion You can ne’er the loss atone, Never make again the edges Bite together, tooth for tooth, And, just so, old love alleges Nought is like the heart’s first troth.

To return to Arnheim : of the Groote Kerk I remember only the very delicate colouring of the ceiling, and the monument of Charles van Egmont, Duke of Guelders. I had grown tired of architecture : it seemed goodlier to watch the shipping on the river, which at Arnheim may be called the Rhine without hesitation. All the traffic to Cologne must pass the town. Hitherto one had had qualms about the use of the word, having seen the Rhine under various aliases in so many places. The Maas at Rotterdam is a mouth of the Rhine ; but before it can become the Rhine proper it becomes the Lek. What is called the true mouth of the Rhine is at Katwyk. At Dordrecht again is another of the Rhine’s mouths, the Waal, which runs into the old Maas and then into the sea. The Yssel, still another mouth of the Rhine, which I saw at Kampen on its way into the Zuyder Zee, breaks away from the parent river just below Arnheim. As a matter of fact all Holland is on the Rhine, but the word must be used with care.

If one would study Dutch romantic scenery I think Nymwegen on the whole a better town to stay in than Arnheim. It is simpler in itself, richer in historic associations, and the country in the immediate east is very well worth exploring—hill and valley and pine woods, with quaint villages here and there ; and, for the comfortable, a favourite hotel at Berg en Daal from which great stretches of the Rhine may be seen.

To see Nymwegen itself to greater advantage, with its massed houses and towers presenting a solid front, one must go over the iron bridge to Lent and then look back across the river. At all times the old town wears from this point of view an interesting and romantic air, but never so much as at evening.

Some versions of “Lohengrin” set the story at Nymwegen; but the Lohengrin monument is at Kleef, a few miles above the confluence of the Rhine and the Waal, the river on which Nymwegen stands.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who was at Nymwegen in 1716, drew an odd comparison between that town and the English town of Nottingham. If Edinburgh is the modern Athens there is no reason why Nottingham should not be the English Nymwegen. Lady Mary writes to her friend Sarah Chiswell : “If you were with me in this town, you would be ready to expect to receive visits from your Nottingham friends. No two places were ever more resembling ; one has but to give the Maese the name of the Trent, and there is no distinguishing the prospects—the houses, like those of Nottingham, built one above another, and are intermixed in the same manner with trees and gardens. The tower they call Julius Caesar’s has the same situation with Nottingham Castle ; and I cannot help fancying I see from it the Trent-field, Adboulton, &c., places so well known to us. ‘Tis true, the fortifications make a considerable difference.”

Nymwegen reminded me of nothing but itself. It is in reality two towns : a spacious residential town near the station, with green squares, and statues, and modern houses (one of them so modern as to be employing a vacuum cleaner, which throbbed and panted in the garden as I passed) ; and the old mediaeval Nymwegen, gathered about one of the most charming market places in all Holland—a scene for comic opera. The Dutch way of chequering the shutters in blue and yellow (as at Middelburg) or in red and black, or red and white, is here practised to perfection. The very beautiful weigh-house has red and black shutters ; the gateway which leads to the church has them too.

Never have I seen a church so hemmed in by surrounding buildings. The little houses beset it as the pigmies beset Antaeus. After some difficulty I found my way in, and wandered for a while among its white immensities. It is practically a church within a church, the region of services being isolated in the midst, in the unlovely Dutch way, within hideous wooden walls. It is very well worth while to climb the tower and see the great waterways of this country beneath you. The prospect is mingled wood and polder : to the east and southeast, shaggy hills ; to the west, the moors of Brabant; to the north, Arnheim’s dark heights.

Nymwegen has many lions, chief of which perhaps is the Valkhof, in the grounds above the river—the remains of a palace of the Carlovingians. It is of immense age, being at once the oldest building in Holland and the richest in historic memories. For here lived Charlemagne and Charles the Bald, Charles the Bold and Maximilian of Austria. The palace might still be standing were it not for the destructiveness of the French at the end of the eighteenth century. A picture by Jan van Goyen in the stadhuis gives an idea of the Valkhof in his day, before vandalism had set in.

As some evidence of the town’s pride in her association with these great names the curfew, which is tolled every evening at eight o’clock, but which I did not hear, is called Charlemagne’s Prayer. The façade of the stadhuis is further evidence, for it carries the statues of some of the ancient monarchs who made Nymwegen their home.

Within the stadhuis is another of the beautiful justice halls which Holland possesses in such profusion, the most interesting of which we saw at Kampen. Kampen’s oak seats are not, however, more beautiful than those of Nymwegen ; and Kampen has no such clock as stands here, distilling information, tick by tick, of days, and years, and sun, and moon, and stars. The stadhuis has also treasures of tapestry and Spanish leather, and a museum containing a very fine collection of antiquities, including one of the famous wooden petticoats of Nymwegen—a painted barrel worn as a penance by peccant dames.

From Nymwegen the train took me to Hertzogenbosch, or Bois le Duc, the capital of Brabant. It is from Brabant, we were told by a proverb which I quoted in my first chapter on Friesland, that one should take a sheep. Great flocks of sheep may be seen on the Brabant moors, exactly as in Mauve’s pictures. They are kept not for food, for the Dutch dislike mutton, but for wool.

Bois le Duc has the richest example of mediaeval architecture in Holland—the cathedral of St. John, a wonderful fantasy in stone, rich not only without, but, contrary to all Dutch precedent, within too ; for we are at last again among a people who for the most part retain the religion of Rome. The glass of the cathedral is poor, but there is a delicate green pattern on the vaulting which is very charming. The koster is proudest of the pulpit, and of a figure of the Virgin ” which is carried in procession through the town every evening between July 7th and 16th “.

But I was not interested so much in particular things as in the cathedral as a whole. To be in the midst of this grey Gothic environment was what I desired, and after a little difficulty I induced the koster to leave me to wander alone. It was the first church in Holland with the old authentic thrill.

Bois le Duc (as it is more simple to call it) is a gay town with perhaps the most spirited market place in the country. The stalls have each an awning, as in the south of Europe, and the women’s heads are garlanded with flowers. I like this method of decoration as little as any, but it carries with it a pleasant sense of festivity.

From Bois le Duc one may go due north to Utrecht and Amsterdam, passing on the way Bommel, with its tall and impressive tower rising from its midst. Or one may keep to the western route and reach Walcheren. That is my present course, and Bommel may be left with a curious story of the Spaniards in 1599. “Two brothers who had never seen, and had always been inquiring for, each other, met at last by chance at the siege, where they served in two different companies. The elder, who was called Hernando Diaz, having heard the other mentioned by the name of Encisso, which was his mother’s surname, and which he had taken through affection, a thing common in Spain, put several questions to him concerning a number of family particulars, and knew at last by the exactness of his answers that he was the brother he had been so long seeking after ; upon which both proceeding to a close embrace, a cannon ball struck off both their heads, without separating their bodies, which fell clinging together.”

Helvoet, on the way to Tilburg, is the scene of an old but honourable story. Ireland tells us that George the Second, being detained by contrary winds on his return from Hanover, reposed at Helvoet until the sea should subside. While there he one day stopped a pretty Dutch girl to ask her what she had in her basket. “Eggs, mynheer.” “And what is the price ?” “A ducat a piece, mynheer.” “Are eggs so scarce then in Holland ?” “No. mynheer, but kings are.”

At Tilburg I did not tarry, but rode on to Breda (which is pronounced with all the accent on the second syllable) and which is famous for a castle (now a military school) and a tomb. The castle, a very beautiful building, was built by Count Henry of Nassau. On becoming in due course the property of William the Silent, it was confiscated by the Duke of Alva. How it was won back again is a story worth telling.

The great achievement belonged to a simple boatman named Adrian. Whether or not he had read or heard of the Trojan horse is not known, but his scheme was not wholly different. Briefly he recommended Prince Maurice to conceal soldiers in his peat boat, under the peats, to be conveyed as peat into the Spanish garrison. The plan was approved and Captain Heranguière was placed in charge of it.

The boat was laden and Adrian poled it into the fortress ; and all was going well until the coldness of the night set the soldiers coughing. All were affected, but chiefly Lieutenant Hells, who, vainly attempting to be silent, at last implored his comrades to kill him lest he ruin the enterprise. Adrian, however, prevented this grim necessity by pumping very hard and thus covering the sound.

It had been arranged that the Prince should be outside the city at a certain hour. Just before the time Heranguière and his men sprang out of their hiding, killed the garrison, opened the gates, and the castle was won again. Heranguière was rewarded by being made governor of Breda ; Adrian was pensioned, and the boat was taken from its native elements and exalted into an honoured position in the castle. When, however, the Spanish general Spinola recaptured Breda, one of his first duties was to burn this worthy vessel.

The jewel of Breda, which is a spreading fortified town, is the tomb of Count Engelbert I. of Nassau, in one of the chapels of the great church. The count and his lady, both sculptured in alabaster, lie side by side beneath a canopy of black marble, which is borne by four warriors also of alabaster. On the canopy are the arms and accoutrements of the dead Count. The tomb, which was the work of Vincent of Bologna in the sixteenth century, is wholly satisfying in its dignity, austerity and grace.

To the font in Breda cathedral William III. attached the privilege of London citizenship. Any child christened there could claim the rights of a Londoner, the origin of the sanction being the presence of English soldiers at Breda and their wish that their children should be English too. Whether or not the Dutch guards who were helping the English at the end of the seventeenth century had a similar privilege in London I do not know.

Late one Saturday evening I watched in a milk shop at Breda a conscientious Dutch woman at work. She had just finished scrubbing the floor and polishing the brass, and was now engaged in laying little paths of paper in case any chance customer should come in over night and soil the boards before Sunday. I thought as I stood there how impossible it would be for an English woman tired with the week to -sit up like this to clean a shop against the next day. Sir William Temple has a pleasant story illustrating at once the inherent passion for cleanliness in the Dutch women and also their old masterfulness. It tells how a magistrate, paying an afternoon call, was received at the door by a stout North Holland lass who, lest he should soil the floor, took him bodily in her arms and carried him to a chair ; sat him in it ; removed his boots ; put a pair of slippers on his feet ; and then led him to her mistress’s presence.

Bergen-op-Zoom has its place in history ; but it is a dull town in fact. Nor has it beautiful streets, with the excepton of that which leads to the old Gevangenpoort with its little painted towers. I must confess that I did not like Bergen-op-Zoom. It seemed to me curiously inhospitable and critical ; which was of course a wrong attitude to take up towards a countryman of Grimston and Redhead. Who are Grimston and Redhead ? I seem to hear the reader asking. Grimston and Redhead were two members of the English garrison when the Prince of Parma besieged Bergen-op-Zoom in 1588, and it was their cunning which saved the town. Falling intentionally into the Prince’s hands they affected to inform him of the vulnerability of the defences, and outlined a scheme by which his capture of a decisive position was practically certain. Having been entrusted with the conduct of the attack, they led his men, by preconcerted design, into an ambush, with the result that the siege was raised.

All being fair in love and war one should, I suppose, be at the feet of these brave fellows ; but I have no enthusiasm for that kind of thing. At the same time there is no doubt that the Dutch ought to, and therefore I am the more distressed by Bergen-op-Zoom’s, rudeness to our foreign garb.

Bergen had seen battle before the siege, for when it was held by the Spanish, at the beginning of the war, a naval engagement was held off it in the Scheldt, between the Spanish fleet and the Beggars of the Sea, whom we are about to meet. The victory was to the Beggars. Later, in 1747, Bergen was besieged again, this time by the French and much more fiercely than by the Spaniards.

From Bergen-op-Zoom we went to Tholen, passing the whitest of windmills on the way. Tholen is an odd little ancient town gained by a tramway and a ferry. Head-dresses here, as at Bois le Duc, are very much over-decorated with false flowers ; but in a little shop in one of the narrow and deserted streets we found.. some very pretty lace. We found, also on the edge of the town, a very merry windmill ; and we had lunch at an inn window which commanded the harnessing of the many market carts, into every one of which climbed a stolid farmer and a wife brimming with gossip.

In the returning steamtram from Tholen to Bergen-op-Zoom was a Dutch maiden. So typical was she that she might have been a composite portrait of all Dutch girls of eighteen—smooth fair features, a very clear complexion, prim clothes. A friend getting in too, she talked ; or rather he talked, and she listened, and agreed or dissented very quietly, and I had the pleasure of watching how admirably adapted is the Dutch feminine countenance for the display of the nuances of emotion, the enregistering of every thought. Expression after expression flitted across her face and mouth like the alternate shadow and sun in the Weald on a breezy April day. A French woman’s many vivacious and eloquent expressions seem to come from within ; but the Dutch present a placid sensitised surface on which their companions’ conversation records the ,most delicate tracery. This girl’s little reluctant smiles were very charming, and we were at Bergen-op-Zoom again before I knew it.