Netherlands – Delft

I TRAVELLED to Delft from Rotterdam in a little steam passenger barge, very long and narrow to fit it for navigating the locks ; which, as it is, it scrapes. We should have started exactly at the hour were it not that a very small boy on the bank interrupted one of the crew who was unmooring the boat by asking for a light for his cigar, and the transaction delayed us a minute.

It rained dismally, and I sat in the stuffy cabin, either peering at the country through the window or talking with a young Dutchman, the only other traveller. At one village a boy was engaged in house-cleaning by immersing the furniture, piece by piece, bodily in the canal. Now and then we met a barge in full sail on its way to Rotterdam, or overtook one being towed towards Delft, the man at the rope bent double under what looked like an impossible task.

Little guides to the tombs in both the Old and the New Church of Delft have been prepared for the convenience of visitors by Dr. G. Morre, and translations in English havebeen made by D. Goslings, both gentlemen, I presume, being local savants. The New Church contains the more honoured dust, for there repose not only William the Silent, who was perhaps the greatest of modern patriots and rulers, but also Grotius.

The tomb of William the Silent is an elaborate erection, of stone and marble, statuary and ornamentation. Justice and Liberty, Religion and Valour, represented by female figures, guard the tomb. It seems to me to lack impressiveness: the man beneath was too fine to need all this display and talent. More imposing is the simplicity of the monument to the great scholar near by. Yet, remembering the struggle of William the Silent against Spain and Rome, it is impossible to stand unmoved before the marble figure of the Prince, lying there for all time with his dog at his feet —the dog who, after the noble habit of the finest of such animals, refused food and drink when his master died, and so faded away rather than owe allegiance and affection to a lesser man.

There is an eloquent Latin epitaph in gold letters on the tomb; but a better epitaph is to be found in the last sentence of Motley’s great history, perhaps the most perfect last sentence that any book ever had : ” As long as he lived, he was the guiding-star of a whole brave nation, and when he died the little children cried in the streets “.

Opposite the Old Church is the Gymnasium Publicum. Crossing the court-yard and entering the confronting door-way, one is instantly on the very spot where William the Silent, whose tomb we have just seen, met his death on July 10th, 1584.

The Prince had been living at Delft for a while, in this house, his purpose partly being to be in the city for the christening of his son Frederick Henry. To him on July 8th came a special messenger from the French Court with news of the death of the Duke of Anjou ; the messenger, a protégé of the Prince’s, according to his own story being Francis Guion, a mild and pious Protestant, whose father had been martyred as a Calvinist. How far removed was the truth Motley shall tell : “Francis Guion, the Calvinist, son of the martyred Calvinist, was in reality Balthazar Gérard, a fanatical Catholic, whose father and mother were still living at Villefans in Burgundy. Before reaching man’s estate, he had formed the design of murdering the Prince of Orange, ‘ who, so long as he lived, seemed like to remain a rebel against the Catholic King, and to make every effort to disturb the repose of the Roman Catholic Apostolic religion’. When but twenty years of age, he had struck his dagger with all his might into a door, ex-claiming, as he did so, ‘ Would that the blow had been in the heart of Orange ! ”

In 1582, however, the news had gone out that Jaureguy had killed the Prince at Antwerp, and Gérard felt that his mission was at an end. But when the Prince recovered, his murderous enthusiasm redoubled, and he offered himself formally and with matter-of-fact precision to the Prince of Parma as heaven’s minister of vengeance. The Prince, who had long been seeking such an emissary, at first declined the alliance: he had become too much the prey of soldiers of fortune who represented themselves to be expert murderers but in whom he could put no trust. In Motley’s words : “Many unsatisfactory assassins had presented themselves from time to time, and Alexander had paid money in hand to various individuals—Italians, Spaniards, Lorrainers, Scotchmen, Englishmen, who had generally spent the sums received without attempting the job. Others were sup-posed to be still engaged in the enterprise, and at that moment there were four persons—each unknown to the others, and of different nations—in the city of Delft, seeking to compass the death of William the Silent. Shag-eared, military, hirsute ruffians, ex-captains of free companies and such marauders, were daily offering their services ; there was no lack of them, and they had done but little. How should Parma, seeing this obscure, undersized, thin-bearded, runaway clerk before him, expect pith and energy from him ? He thought him quite unfit for an enterprise of moment, and declared as much to his secret councillors and to the King.”

Gérard, however, had supporters, and in time the Prince of Parma came to take a more favourable view of his qualifications and sincerity, but his confidence was insufficient to warrant him in advancing any money for the purpose. The result was that Gérard, whose dominating idea amounted to mania, proceeded in his own way. His first step was to ingratiate himself with the Prince of Orange. This he did by a series of misrepresentations and fraud, and he was recommended by the Prince to the Seigneur of Schoneval, who on leaving Delft on a mission to the Duke of Anjou, added him to his suite.

The death of the Duke gave Gérard his chance, and he obtained permission to carry despatches to the Prince of Orange, as we have seen. The Prince received him in his bedroom, after his wont. Motley now relates the tragedy , ” Here was an opportunity such as he (Gérard) had never dared to hope for. The arch-enemy to the Church and to the human race, whose death would confer upon his destroyer wealth and nobility in this world, besides a crown of glory in the next, lay unarmed, alone, in bed, before the man who had thirsted seven long years for his blood.

Balthazar could scarcely control his emotions sufficiently to answer the questions which the Prince addressed to him concerning the death of Anjou, but Orange, deeply engaged with the despatches, and with the reflections which their deeply important contents suggested, did not observe the countenance of the humble Calvinistic exile, who had been recently recommended to his patronage by Villiers. Gérard had, moreover, made no preparation for an interview so entirely unexpected, had come unarmed, and had formed no plan for escape. He was obliged to forego his prey when most within his reach, and after communicating all the information which the Prince required, he was dismissed from the chamber.

“It was Sunday morning, and the bells were tolling for church. Upon leaving the house he loitered about the courtyard, furtively examining the premises, so that a sergeant of halberdiers asked him why he was waiting there. Balthazar meekly replied that he was desirous of attending divine worship in the church opposite, but added, pointing to his shabby and travel-stained attire, that, without at least a new pair of shoes and stockings, he was unfit to join the congregation. Insignificant as ever, the small, pious, dusty stranger excited no suspicion in the mind of the good-natured sergeant. He forthwith spoke of the wants of Gérard to an officer, by whom they were communicated to Orange himself, and the Prince instantly ordered a sum of money to be given him. Thus Balthazar obtained from William’s charity what Parma’s thrift had denied—a fund for carrying out his purpose !

” Next morning, with the money thus procured he purchased a pair of pistols, or small carabines, from a soldier, chaffering long about the price because the vendor could not supply a particular kind of chopped bullets or slugs which he desired. Before the sunset of the following day that soldier had stabbed himself to the heart, and died despairing, on hearing for what purpose the pistols had been bought.

” On Tuesday, the 10th of July, 1584, at about half-past twelve, the Prince, with his wife on his arm, and followed by the ladies and gentlemen of his family, was going to the dining-room. William the Silent was dressed upon that day, according to his usual custom, in very plain fashion. He wore a wide-leaved, loosely shaped hat of dark felt, with a silken cord round the crown,—such as had been worn by the Beggars in the early days of the revolt. A high ruff encircled his neck, from which also depended one of the Beggars’ medals, with the motto, ‘ Fidèles au ray , jusqu’à la besace,’ while a loose surcoat of gray frieze cloth, over a tawny leather doublet, with wide slashed underclothes completed his costume.

” Gérard presented himself at the doorway, and demanded a passport. The Princess, struck with the pale and agitated countenance of the man, anxiously questioned her husband concerning the stranger. The Prince carelessly observed, that ` it was merely a person who came for a passport,’ ordering, at the same time, a secretary forthwith to prepare one. The Princess, still not relieved, observed in an undertone that ‘ she had never seen so villainous a countenance’. Orange, however, not at all impressed with the appearance of Gérard, conducted himself at table with his usual cheerfulness, conversing much with the burgomaster of Leewarden, the only guest present at the family. dinner, concerning the political and religious aspects of Friesland. At two o’clock the company rose from table. The Prince led the way, intending to pass to his private apartments above. The dining-room, which was on the ground-floor, opened into a little square vestibule which communicated, through an arched passage-way, with the main entrance into the court-yard. This vestibule was also directly at the foot of the wooden staircase leading to the next floor, and was scarcely six feet in width.’

“Upon its left side, as one approached the stairway, was an obscure arch, sunk deep in the wall, and completely in the shadow of the door. Behind this arch a portal opened to the narrow lane at the side of the house. The stairs themselves were completely lighted by a large window, half-way up the flight. The Prince came from the dining-room, and began leisurely to ascend. He had only reached the second stair, when a man emerged from the sunken arch, and, standing within a foot or two of him, discharged a pistol full at his heart.”

When Jaureguy had fired at the Prince two years earlier, the ball passing through his jaw, the Prince, as he faltered under the shock, cried, “Do not kill him — I forgive him my death!” But he had no time to express any such plea for his assailant after Gérard’s cruel shots. “Three balls,” says Motley, “entered his body, one of which, passing quite through him, struck with violence against the wall beyond. The Prince exclaimed in French, as he felt the wound, ‘ O my God, have mercy upon my soul ! O my God, have mercy upon this poor people ! ‘

“These were the last words he ever spoke, save that when his sister, Catherine of Schwartzburg, immediately afterwards asked him if he commended his soul to Jesus Christ, he faintly answered, `Yes’.

Never has the pistol done worse work. The Prince was only fifty-one ; he was full of vigour ; his character had never been stronger, his wisdom never more mature. Had he lived a few years longer the country would have been saved years of war and misery.

One may stand to-day exactly where the Prince stood when he was shot. The mark of a bullet in the wall is still shown. The dining-room, from which he had come, now contains a collection of relics of his great career.

Let us return to the New Church, past the statue of Grotius in the great square, in order to look again at that philosopher’s memorial. Grotius, who was born at Delft, was extraordinarily precocious. He went to Leyden University and studied under Scaliger when he was eleven ; at sixteen he was practising as a lawyer at The Hague. This is D. Gosling’s translation of the inscription on his tomb :

SACRED TO HUGO GROTIUS

The Wonder of Europe, the sole astonishment of the learned world, the splendid work of nature surpassing itself, the summit of genius, the image of virtue, the ornament raised above mankind, to whom the de-fended honour of true religion gave cedars from the top of Lebanon, whom Mars adorned with laurels and Pallas with olive branches, when he had published the right of war and peace : whom the Thames and the Seine regarded as the wonder of the Dutch, and whom the court of Sweden took in its service : Here lies GROTIUS. Shun this tomb, ye who do not burn with love of the Muses and your country.

Grotius can hardly have burned with love of the sense of justice of his own country, for reasons with which we are familiar. His sentence of life-long imprisonment, passed by Prince Maurice of Orange, who lies hard by in the same church, was passed in 1618. His escape in the chest (like General Monk in Twenty Years After) was his last deed on Dutch soil. Thenceforward he lived in Paris and Sweden, England and Germany, writing his De Jura Belli et Paris and other works. He died in 1645, when Holland claimed him again, as Oxford has claimed Shelley.

The principal tomb in the Old Church of Delft is that of Admiral Tromp, the Dutch Nelson. While quite a child he was at sea with his father off the coast of Guinea when an English cruiser captured the vessel and made him a cabin boy. Tromp, if he felt any resentment, certainly lived to pay it back, for he was our victor in thirty-three naval engagements, the last being the final struggle in the English-Dutch war, when he defeated Monk off Texel in the summer of 1653, and was killed by a bullet in his heart. The battle is depicted in bas-relief on the tomb, but the eye searches the marble in vain for any reminder of the broom which the admiral is said to have lashed to his masthead as a sign to the English that it was his habit to sweep their seas. The story may be a myth, but the Dutch sculptor who omitted to remember it and believe in it is no friend of mine.

This is D. Gosling’s translation of Tromp’s epitaph :–

FOR AN ETERNAL MEMORIAL

You, who love the Dutch, virtue and true labour, read and mourn.

The ornament of the Dutch people, the formidable in battle, lies low, he who never lay down in his life, and taught by his example that a commander should die standing, he, the love of his fellow-citizens, the terror of his enemies, the wonder of the ocean.

MAARTEN HARPERTSZOON TROMP, a name comprehending more praise than this stone can contain, a stone truly too narrow for him, for whom East and West were a school, the sea the occasion of triumph, the whole world the scene of his glory, he, a certain ruin to pirates, the successful protector of commerce; useful through his familiarity, not low; after having ruled the sailors and the soldiers, a rough sort of people, in a fatherly and efficaciously benignant manner ; after fifty battles in which he was commander or in which he played a great part ; after incredible victories, after the highest honours though below his merits, be at last in the war against the English, nearly victor but certainly not beaten, on the 10th of August, x653, of the Christian era, at the age of fifty-six years, has ceased to live and to conquer.

The fathers of the United Netherlands have erected this memorial in honour of this highly meritorious hero.

There lie in Delft’s Old Church also Pieter Pieterzoon Hein, Lieut.-Admiral of Holland ; and Elizabeth van Marnix, wife of the governor of Bergen-op-Zoom, whose epitaph runs thus :

Here am I lying, I ELIZABETH, born of an illustrious and ancient family, wife to Morgan, I, daughter of Marnix, a name not unknown in the world, which, in spite of time, will always remain. There is virtue enough in having pleased one husband, which his so precious love testifies.

The tomb of Antony van Leeuwenhoek (whom his fellow-townsman, Vermeer, painted three or four times, and Nicolas Maes once), the inventor of the microscope, is also to be seen in the church. ” As everybody, O Wanderer,” the epitaph concludes, ” has respect for old age and wonderful parts, tread this spot with respect : here grey science lies buried with Leeuwenhoek.”

Each of the little guide-books, which are given to every purchaser of a ticket to enter the churches, is prefaced by four “Remarks,” of which I quote the third and fourth :

3. Visitors are requested not to bestow gifts on the sexton or his assistants, as the former would lose his situation, if he accepted ; he is responsible for his assistants.

4. The sexton or his assistants will treat the visitors with the greatest politeness.

I am not certain about the truth of either of these clauses, particularly the last. Let me explain.

The sexton of the Old Church hurried me past these tombs with some impatience. I should naturally have taken my time, but his attitude of haste made it imperative to do so. Sextons must not be in a hurry. After a while I found out why he chafed : he wanted to smoke. He fumbled his pipe and scraped his boots upon the stones. I studied the monuments with a scrutiny that grew more and more minute and elaborate; and soon his matches were in his hand. I wanted to tell him that if I were the only obstacle he might smoke to his heart’s content, but it seemed to be more amusing to watch and wait. My return to the tomb of the ingenious constructor of the microscope settled the question. Probably no one had ever spent more than half a minute on poor Leeuwenhoek before ; and when I turned round again the pipe was alight. The sexton also was a changed man : before, he had been taciturn, contemptuous ; now he was communicative, gay. He told me that the organist was blind—but none the less a fine player; he led me briskly to the carved pulpit and pointed out, with some exultation, the figure of Satan with his legs bound. The cincture seemed to give him a sense of security.

In several ways he made it impossible for me to avoid disregarding Clause 3 in the little guide-books ; but I feel quite sure that he has not in consequence lost his situation.

Delft’s greatest painter was Johannes Vermeer, known as Vermeer of Delft, of whom I shall have much to say both at the Hague and Amsterdam. He was born at Delft in 1632, he died there in 1675 ; and of him but little more is known. It has been said that he studied under Karel Fabritius (also of Delft), but if this is so the term of pupil-age must have been very brief, for Fabritius did not reach Delft (from Rembrandt’s studio) until 1652, when Vermeer was twenty, and he was killed in an explosion in 1654. In the Mauritshuis at The Hague, Fabritius’s ” Goldfinch ” is hung beneath the Girl’s Head by Vermeer, but they have nothing in common. The white wall in “The Goldfinch ” might, however, very easily have turned the young Vermeer’s thought in that direction. He has one in the ” Milkmaid ” picture, and also, in perfection, in ” The Pearl Necklace ” in Berlin.

How many pictures Vermeer painted between 16M, when he was admitted to the Delft Guild as a master, and 1675, when he died, cannot now be said ; but it is reasonable to allot to each of those twenty-three years at least four works. As the known pictures of Vermeer are very few—only thirty-eight—some great discoveries may be in store for the diligent, or, more probably, the lucky.

I have read somewhere—but cannot find the reference again—of a ship that left Holland for Russia in the seventeenth century, carrying a number of paintings by the best artists of that day—particularly, if I remember, Gerard Dou. The vessel foundered and all were lost. It is possible that Vermeer may have been largely represented.

Only comparatively lately has fame come to him, his first prophet being the French critic Thoré (who wrote as ” W. Burger”), and his second Mr. Henri Havard, the author of very pleasant books on Holland from which I shall occasionally quote. Both these enthusiasts wrote before the picture opposite page 2 was exhibited, or their ecstasies might have been even more intense.

To my mind the pictures of Jan Vermeer of Delft are the most exquisite and perfect things that Holland possesses. But for fear of tiring by my excitement, I say no more here. When we reach the Hague and Amsterdam, I shall break out again.

In the Senate House at Delft in 1641 John Evelyn the diarist saw ” a mighty vessel of wood, not unlike a butter churn, which the adventurous woman that bath two husbands at one time is to wear on her shoulders, her head peeping out at the top only, and so led about the town, as a penance.” I did not see this ; but the punishment was not peculiar to Delft. At Nymwegen these wooden petticoats were famous too.

Nor did I visit the porcelain factory, having very little interest in its modern products. But the old Delft ware no one can admire more than I do. A history of Delft written by Dirk van Bleyswijck and published in 1667, tells us that the rise of the porcelain industry followed the decline of brewing. The author gives with tears a list of scores of breweries that ceased to exist between 1600 and 1640.

I would rather have explored any of those breweries than the modern Delft factory.

Ireland, by the way, mentions a whimsical sign-board which he saw somewhere in Holland, but which I regret to say I did not find. ” It was a tree bearing fruit, and the branches filled with little, naked urchins, seemingly just ripened into life, and crying for succour : beneath, a woman holds up her apron, looking wistfully at the children, as if intreating them to jump into her lap. On inquiry, I found it to be the house of a sworn midwife, with this Dutch inscription prefixed to her name : that is, `Catch me, I’ll be a sweet boy’. This new mode of procreation, so truly whimsical, pleased me,” Ireland adds, ” not a little.”

Let me close this chapter by quoting from an essay by my friend Mr. Belloc, a lyrical description of the Old Church’s wonderful wealth of bells : ” Thirdly, the very structure of the thing is bells. Here the bells are more even than the soul of a Christian spire ; they are its body, too, its whole self. An army of them fills up all the space between the delicate supports and framework of the upper parts. For I know not how many feet, in order, diminishing in actual size and in the perspective also of that triumphant elevation, stand ranks on ranks of bells from the solemn to the wild, from the large to the small, a hundred, or two hundred or a thousand. There is here the prodigality of Brabant and Hainault and the Batavian blood, a generosity and a productivity in bells without stint, the man who designed it saying ‘ Since we are to have bells, let us have bells ; not measured out, calculated, expensive, and prudent bells, but careless bells, self-answering multitudinous bells ; bells without fear, bells excessive and bells innumerable ; bells worthy of the ecstasies that are best thrown out and published in the clashing of bells. For bells are single, like real pleasures, and we will combine such a great number that they may be like the happy and complex life of a man. In a word, let us be noble and scatter our bells and reap a harvest till our town is famous in its bells.’ So now all the spire is more than clothed with them ; they are more than stuff or ornament : they are an outer and yet sensitive armour, all of bells.

“Nor is the wealth of these bells in their number only, but also in their use—for they are not reserved in any way, but ring tunes and add harmonies at every half and a quarter and at all the hours both by night and by day. Nor must you imagine that there is any obsession of noise through this ; they are far too high and melodious, and (what is more) too thoroughly a part of all the spirit of Delft to be more than a perpetual and half-forgotten impression of continual music ; they render its air sacred and fill it with something so akin to an uplifted silence a to leave one–when one has passed from their influence—asking what balm that was which soothed all the harshness of sound about one.”