Netherlands – Dordrecht And Utrecht

It must be approached by water, because then one sees her as she was seen so often, and painted so often, by her great son Albert Cuyp, and by countless artists since.

I steamed from Rotterdam to Dordrecht on a grey windy morning, on a passenger boat bound ultimately for Nymwegen. We carried a very mixed cargo. In a cage at the bows was a Friesland mare, while the whole of the deck at the stern was piled high with motor spirit. Between came myriad barrels of beer and other merchandise.

The course to Dordrecht (which it is simpler to call Dort) is up the Maas for some miles ; past shipbuilding yards, at Sylverdyk (where is a great heronry) and Kinderdyk ; past fishermen dropping their nets for salmon, which they may take only on certain days, to give their German brethren, higher up the river, a chance ; past meadows golden with marsh marigolds; past every kind of craft, most attractive of all being the tjalcks with their brown or black sails and green-lined hulls, not unlike those from Rochester which swim so steadily in the reaches of the Thames about Greenwich. The journey takes an hour and a half, the last half-hour being spent in a canal leading south from the Maas and ultimately joining Dort’s confluence of waters.

It is these rivers that give Dort her peculiar charm. There is a little café on the quay facing the sunset where one may sit and lose oneself in the eternally interesting movement of the shipping. I found the town distracting under the incessant clanging of the tram bell (yet grass grows among the paving-stones between the rails) ; but there is no distraction opposite the sunset. On the evening that I am remembering the sun left a sky of fiery orange barred by clouds of essential blackness.

Dort’s rivers are the Maas and the Waal, the Linge and the Merwede; and when in 1549 Philip of Spain visited the city, she flourished this motto before him :

Me Mosa, me Vahalis, me Linga Morvaque cingunt Biternam Batavae virginis ecce fidens.

The fidelity, at least to Philip and Spain, disappeared ; but the four rivers still as of old surround Dort with a cincture.

I must give, in the words of the old writer who tells it, the pretty legend which explains the origin of the Dort coat of arms : “There is an admirable history concerning that beautiful and maiden city of Holland called Dort. The Spaniards had intended an onslaught against it, and so they had laid thousands of old soldiers in ambush. Not far from it there did live a rich farmer who did keep many cows in his ground, to furnish Dort with butter and milk. The milkmaid coming to milk saw all under the hedges soldiers lying ; seemed to take no notice, but went singing to her cows ; and having milked, went as merrily away. Coming to her master’s house, she told what she had seen. The master wondering at it, took the maid with him and presently came to Dort, told it to the Burgomaster, who sent a spy immediately, found it true, and prepared for their safety ; sent to the States, who presently sent soldiers into the city, and gave order that the river should be let in at such a sluice, to lay the country under water. It was done, and many Spaniards were drowned and utterly disappointed of their design, and the town saved. The States, in the memory of the merry milkmaid’s good service to the country, ordered the farmer a large revenue for ever, to recompense his loss of house, land, and cattle ; caused the coin of the city to have the milkmaid under her cow to be engraven, which is to be seen upon the Dort dollar, stivers, and doights to this day ; and so she is set upon the water gate of Dort ; and she had, during her life, and her’s for ever, an allowance of fifty pounds per annum. A noble requital for a virtuous action.”

Dort’s great day of prosperity is over ; but once she was the richest town in Holland—a result due to the privilege of the Staple. In other words, she obtained the right to act as intermediary between the rest of Holland and the outer world in connection with all the wine, corn, timber and whatever else might be imported by way of the Rhine. At Dort the cargoes were unloaded. For some centuries she enjoyed this privilege, and then in 1618 Rotterdam began to resent it so acutely as to take to arms, and the financial prosperity of the town, which would be tenable only by the maintenance of a fleet, steadily crumbled. Today she is contented enough, but the cellars of Wyn Straat, once stored with the juices of Rhenish vineyards, are empty. The Staple is no more.

Dort is perhaps the most painted of all Dutch towns, and with reason ; for certainly no other town sits with more calm dignity among the waters, nor has any other town so quaintly medieval a canal as that which extends from end to end, far below the level of the streets, crossed by a series of little bridges. Seen from these bridges it is the nearest thing to Venice in all Holland—nearer than anything in Amsterdam. One may see it not only from the bridges, but also from little flights of steps off the main street, and everywhere it is beautiful: the walls rising from its surface reflected in its depths, green paint splashed about with perfect effect, bright window boxes, here and there a woman washing clothes, odd gables above and bridges in the distance.

Dordrecht’s converging façades, which incline towards each other like deaf people, are, I am told, the result not of age and sinking foundations, but of design. When they were built, very many years ago, the city had a law directing that its roofs should so far project beyond the perpendicular as to shed their water into the gutter, thus enabling the passers-by on the pavement to walk unharmed. I cannot give chapter or verse for this comfortable theory ; which of course preceded the ingenious Jonas Hanway’s invention of the umbrella. In a small and very imperfect degree the enactment anticipates the covered city of Mr. H. G. Wells’s vision, A Dutch friend to whom I put the point tells me that more probably the preservation of bricks and mural carvings was intended, the dryness of the wayfarer being quite secondary or unforeseen.

Dart’s greatest artist was Albert Cuyp, born in 1605. His body lies in the church of the Augustines in the same city, where he died in 1691—true to the Dutch painters’ quiet gift of living and dying in their birthplaces. Cuyp has been called the Dutch Claude, but it is not a good description. He was more human, more simple, than Claude. The symbol for him is a scene of cows ; but he had great versatility, and painted horses to perfection. I have also seen good portraits from his busy brush. Faithful to his native town, he painted many pictures of Dort. We have two in the National Gallery. I have re-produced opposite page 30 his beautiful quiet view of the town in the Ryks Museum. Dort has changed but little since then : the schooner would now be a steamer—that is almost all. The reproduction can give no adequate suggestion of Cuyp’s gift of diffusing golden light, his most precious possession.

Another Dort painter, below Albert Cuyp in fame, but often above him, I think, in interest and power, is Nicolas Maes, born in 1632—a great year in Dutch art, for it saw the birth also of Vermeer of Delft and Peter de Hooch. Maes, who studied in Rembrandt’s studio, was perhaps the greatest of all that master’s pupils. England appreciated Maes wisely, with the result that some of his best pictures are in our possession.

But one must go to the Ryks Museum in Amsterdam to see his finest work of all—” The Endless Prayer,” No. 1501, reproduced on the opposite page. We have at the National Gallery or the Wallace Collection no Maes equal to this.

To ” The Endless Prayer” (the title of which is con-fusing, for it is grace surely that is being said) one feels that Maes’s master, Rembrandt, could have added nothing. It is even conceivable that he might have injured it by some touch of asperity.

According to Pilkington, Mites gave up his better and more Rembrandtesque manner on account of the objection of his sitters to be thus painted. Such are sitters !

Dordrecht claims also Ferdinand Bol, the pupil and friend of Rembrandt, and the painter of the Four Regents of the Leprosy Hospital in the Amsterdam stadhuis. He was born in 1611. For a while his pictures were considered by connoisseurs to be finer than those of his master. We are wiser today ; yet Bol had a fine free way that is occasionally superb, often united, as in the portrait of Dirck van der Waeijen at Rotterdam, to a delicate charm for which Rembrandt cared little. His portrait of an astronomer in our National Gallery is a great work, and at the Ryks Museum at Amsterdam his “Roelof Meulenaer,” No. 543, should not be missed. Bol’s favourite sitter seems to have been Admiral de Ruyter—if one may judge by the number of his portraits of that sea ravener which Holland possesses.

In the new quarter of Amsterdam behind the Ryks and near the skating club’s lake we find a Nicolas Maes Straat, a Ferdinand Bol Straat, a Peter de Hooch Straat, -and a Johannes Vermeer Plein all close together. But what London streets or squares are named in the honour of artists ?

By a perversity of judgment Dort seems to be more proud of Ary Scheffer than of any of her really great sons. It is Ary Scheffer’s statue—not Albert Cuyp’s or Nicolas Maes’s—which rises in the centre of the town ; and Ary Scheffer’s sentimental and saccharine inventions fill three rooms in the museum. It is amusing in the midst of this riot of meek romanticism to remember that Scheffer painted Carlyle. Dort has no right to be so intoxicated with the excitement of having given birth to Scheffer, for his father was a German, a mere sojourner in the Dutch town.

Another artist of Dort was Jan Terween Aertz, born in 1511, whose carvings in the choir of the Groote Kerk are among its chief glories. It is amazing that such spirit and movement can be suggested in wood. That the very semblance of life can be captured by a painter is wonderful enough ; but there seems to me something more extraordinary in the successful conquest of the difficulties which confront an artist of such ambition as this Dort carver. His triumph is even more striking than that of the sculptor in marble. The sacristan of Dort’s Groote Kerk seems more eager to show a brass screen and a gold christening bowl than these astounding choir stalls ; but tastes always differ.

By the irony of fate it was Dort—the possessor of Terween’s carving of the Triumph of Charles V. (a pendant to the Triumph of the Church and the Eucharist)—that, in 1572, only a few years after the carving was made, held the Congress which virtually decided the fate of Spain in the Netherlands. Brill had begun the revolution (as we shall see in our last chapter), Flushing was the first to follow suit, Enkhuisen then caught the fever ; but these were individual efforts : it was the Congress of Dort that authorised and systematised the revolt

The scheme of this book precludes a consecutive account of the great struggle between Holland and Spain-a struggle equal almost to that between Holland and her other implacable foe, the sea. I assume in the reader a sufficient knowledge of history to be able to follow the course of the contest as it moves backwards and forwards in these pages—the progress of the narrative being dictated by the sequence of towns in the itinerary rather than by the sequence of events in time. The death of William the Silent, for example, has to be set forth in the chapter on Delft, where the tragedy occurred, and where he lies buried, long before we reach the description of the siege of Haarlem and the capture of De Bossu off Hoorn, while for the insurrection of Brill, which was the first tangible token of Dutch independence, we have to wait until the last chapter of all. The reader who is endowed with sufficient history to reconcile these divagations should, I think, by the time the book is finished, have (with Motley’s assistance) a vivid idea of this great war, so magnificently waged by Holland, which lowers in the background of almost every Dutch town.

A later congress at Dort was the famous Synod in 1618-19, in which a packed house of Gomarians or Contra-Remonstrants, pledged to carry out the wishes of Maurice, Prince of Orange, the Stadtholder, affected to subject the doctrines of the Arminians or Remonstrants to conscientious examination. These doctrines as contained in the five articles of the Arminians were as follows, in the words of Davies, the historian of Holland : “First, that God had resolved from the beginning to elect into eternal life those who through his grace believed in Jesus Christ, and continued stedfast in the faith ; and, on the contrary, had resolved to leave the obstinate and unbelieving to eternal damnation ; secondly, that Christ had died for the whole world, and obtained for all remission of sins and reconciliation with God, of which, nevertheless, the faithful only are made partakers ; thirdly, that man cannot have a saving faith by his own free will, since while in a state of sin he cannot think or do good, but it is necessary that the grace of God, through Christ, should regenerate and renew the understanding and affections ; fourthly, that this grace is the beginning, continuance, and end of salvation, and that all good works proceed from it, but that it is not irresistible ; fifthly, that although the faithful receive by grace sufficient strength to resist Satan, sin, the world, and the flesh, yet man can by his own act fall away from this state of grace.”

After seven months wrangling and bitterness, at a cost of a million guelders, the Synod came to no conclusion more Christian than that no punishment was too bad for the holder of such opinions, which were dangerous to the State and subversive of true religion. The result was that Holland’s Calvinism was intensified ; Barneveldt (who had been in prison all the time) was, as we shall see, beheaded ; Grotius and Hoogenbeets were sentenced to imprisonment for life ; and Episcopius, the Remonstrant leader at the Synod, was, together with many others, banished. Episcopius heard his sentence with composure, merely remarking, “God will require of you an account of your conduct at the great day of His judgment. There you and the whole Synod will appear. May you never meet with a judge such as the Synod has been to us.”

Davies has a story of Episcopius which is too good to be omitted. On banishment he was given his expenses by the States. Among the dollars given to Episcopius was one, coined apparently in the Duchy of Brunswick, bearing on the one side the figure of Truth, with the motto, “Truth overcomes all things”; and on the reverse, “In well-doing fear no one”. Episcopius was so struck with the coincidence that he had the coin set in gold and carefully preserved.

It is impossible for any one who has read La Tulipe Noire not to think of that story when wandering about Dort ; but it is a mistake to read it in the town itself, for the Great Alexandre’s fidelity to fact will not bear the strain. Dumas never wore his historical, botanical, geographical and ethnographical knowledge more like a flower than in this brave but breathless story. In Boxtel’s envy we may perhaps believe ; in Gryphon’s savagery ; and in the craft and duplicity of the Stadtholder ; but if ever a French philosopher and a French grisette masqueraded as a Dutch horticulturist and a Frisian waiting-maid they are Cornelius van Baerle and his Rosa ; and if ever a tulip grew by magic rather than by the laws of nature it was the tulipe noire. No matter ; there is but one Dumas. According to Flotow the composer, William III. of Holland told Dumas the story of the black tulip at his coronation in 1849, remarking that it was time that the novelist turned his attention to Holland ; but two arguments are urged against this origin, one being that Paul Lacroix—the ” Bibliophile Jacob “—is said, on better authority, to have supplied the germ of the romance, and the other (which is even better evidence), that had the stimulus come from a monarch Dumas would hardly have refrained from saying so (and more) in the preface of the book.

Cornelius de Witt, whose tragedy is at the threshold of the romance, was apprehended at Dort, on his bed of sickness, and carried thence to the Hague, to be imprisoned in the Gevangenpoort, which we shall visit, and torn to pieces by the populace close by.

Another – literary association. From Dort came the English cynical writer Bernard Mandeville, born in 1670, author of The Fable of the Bees, that very shrewd and advanced commentary upon national hypocrisies—so advanced, indeed, that several of the more revolutionary of the thinkers of the present day, whose ideas are thought peculiarly modern, have not really got beyond it. After leaving Leyden as a doctor of medicine, Mandeville settled in England, somewhen at the end of the seventeenth century, and became well known in the Coffee Houses as a wit and good fellow.

We are a curious people when we travel. At Dort I heard a young Englishman inquiring of the landlord how best to spend his Sunday. ” One can hardly go on one of the river excursions,” he remarked; “they are so mixed.” And the landlord, with a lunch at two florins, fifty, in his mind, which it was desirable that as many persons as possible should eat and pay for, heartily agreed with him. None the less it seemed well to join the excursion to Gorinchem and thence we steamed on a fine cloudy Sunday, the river whipped grey by a strong cross wind, and the little ships that beat up and passed us, all aslant. At Gorinchem (pronounced Gorcum) we changed at once into another steamer, a sorry tub, as wide as it was short, and steamed to Woudrichem (called Worcum) hoping to explore the fortress of Loevenstein. But Loevenstein is enisled and beyond the reach of the casual visitor, and we had therefore to sit in the upper room of the Belle-vue inn, overlooking the river, and await the tub’s de-liberate return, while the tugs and the barges trailed past. Save for modifications brought about by steam, the scene can be now little different from that in the days when Hugo Grotius was imprisoned in the castle.

The philosopher’s escape is one of the best things in the history of wives. Two ameliorations were permitted him by Maurice—the presence of the Vrouw Grotius and the solace of books. As it happened, this lenience could not have been less fortunately (or, for Grotius, more fortunately) framed. Books came continually to the prisoner, which, when read, were returned in the same chest that conveyed his linen to the Gorcum wash. At first the guard carefully examined each departing load ; but after a while the form was omitted. Grotius’s wife, a woman of no common order (when asked why she did not sue for her husband’s pardon, she had replied, ” I will not do it : if he have deserved it let them strike off his head “), was quick to notice the negligence of the guard, and giving out that her husband was bedridden, she concealed him in the chest, and he was dumped on a tjalck and carried over to Gorcum. While on his journey he had the shuddering experience of hearing some one remark that the box was heavy enough to have a man in it ; but it was his only danger. A Gorcum friend extricated him ; and, disguised as a carpenter armed with a footrule, he set forth on his travels to Antwerp. Once certain that Grotius was safe, his wife informed the guard, and the hue and cry was raised. But it was raised in vain. At first there was a suggestion that the lady should be retained in his stead, but all Holland applauded her deed and she was permitted to go free.

The river, as I have said, must be still much the same as in Grotius’s day ; while the two towns Gorcum and Worcum cluster about their noble church towers as of old. Worcum is hardly altered ; but Gorcum’s railway and factories have enlarged her borders. She has now twelve thousand inhabitants, some eleven thousand of whom were in the streets when, the tub having at length crawled back with us, we walked through them to the station.

At Gorcum was born, in 1637, Jan van der Heyden, a very attractive painter of street scenes, combining exactitude of detail with rich colour, who used to get Andreas van der Velde to put in the figures. He has a view of Cologne in the National Gallery which is exceedingly pleasing, and a second version in the Wallace Collection. Many delicious examples of his genius await us at Amsterdam, where the scenes may often still be identified.

We came into Utrecht in the evening. At Culemberg the country begins to grow very green and rich : smooth meadows and vast woods as far as one can see : plovers all the way. The light transfiguring this scene was exactly the golden light which one sees in Albert Cuyp’s most peaceful landscapes.

When I was first on this journey the time was spring, and the sliding, pointed roofs of the ricks were at their lowest, with their four poles high and naked above them, like scaffolding. But on a later occasion, in August, they were all resting on the top pegs, a solid square tower of hay beneath each ; looking in the evening light for all the world as if every farmer had his private Norman church.

The note of Utrecht is superior satisfaction. It has discreet verdant parks, a wonderful campanile, a University, large comfortable houses, carriages and pairs. Its cathedral is the only church in Holland (with the exception of the desecrated fane at Veere) for the privilege of entering which I was not asked to pay. I have an uneasy feeling that it was an oversight, and that if by any chance this statement meets an authoritative eye some one may be removed to one of the penal establishments and steps be taken to collect my debt. But so it was. And yet it is possible that the free right of entrance is intentional ; since to charge for a building so unpardonably disfigured would be a hardy action. The Gothic arches have great beauty, but it is impossible from any point to get more than a broken view on account of the high painted wooden walls with which the pews have been enclosed.

The cathedral is only a fragment ; the nave fell in, isolating the bell tower, during a tempest in 1674, and by that time all interest in churches as beautiful and sacred buildings having died out of Holland, never to return, no effort was made to restore it. But it must, before the storm, have been superb, and of a vastness superior to any in the country.

I find a very pleasant passage upon Holland’s great churches, and indeed upon its best architecture in general, in an essay on Utrecht Cathedral by Mr. L. A. Corbeille. a Gothic churches on a grand scale are as abundant in the Netherlands as they are at home, but to find one of them drawn or described in any of the otherwise comprehensive architectural works, which appear from time to time, is the rarest of experiences. The Hollanders are accused of mere apishness in employing the Gothic style, and of downright dulness in apprehending its import and beauty. Yet a man who has found that bit of Rotterdam which beats Venice ; who has seen, from under Delft’s lindens on a summer evening, the image of the Oude Kerk’s leaning tower in the still canal, and has gone to bed, perchance to awake in the moonlight while the Nieuwe Kerk’s many bells are rippling a silver tune over the old roofs and gables ; who has drunk his beer full opposite the stadhuis at Leyden, and seen Haarlem’s huge church across magnificent miles of gaudy tulips, and watched from a brown-sailed boat on the Zuider Zee a buoy on the horizon grow into the water-gate of Hoorn ; who knows his Gouda and Bois-le-duc and Alkmaar and Kampen and Utrecht : this man does not fret over wasted days.”

Mr. Corbeille continues, later : ” Looking down a side street of Rotterdam at the enormous flank of St. Lawrence’s, and again at St. Peter’s in Leyden, it seems as if all the bricks in the world have been built up in one place. Apart from their smaller size, bricks appear far more numerous in a wall than do blocks of stone, because they make a stronger contrast with the mortar. In the laborious articulation of these millons of clay blocks one first finds Egypt; then quickly remembers how indigenous it all is, and how characteristic of the untiring Hollander, who rules the waves even more proudly than the Briton, and has cheated them of the very ground beneath his feet. And if sermons may be found in bricks as well as stones, one has a thought while looking at them about Christianity itself. Certainly there are often pitiful littleness and short-comings in the individual believer, just as each separate brick of these millions is stained or worn or fractured ; and yet the Christian Church, august and significant, still towers before men ; even as these old blocks of clay compile vastly and undeniably in an overpowering whole.”

Among a huddle of bad and indifferent pictures in the Kunstliefde Museum is a series of four long paintings by Jan van Scorel (whom we met at Rotterdam), representing a band of pilgrims who travelled from Utrecht to Jerusalem in the sixteenth century. The faces are all such as one can believe in ; just so, we feel, did the pilgrims look, and what a thousand pities there was no Jan van Scorel to accompany Chaucer ! These are the best pictures in Utrecht, which cannot have any great interest in art or it would not allow that tramway through its bell tower.

Jan van Scorel was only a settler in Utrecht ; the most illustrious citizen to whom it gave birth was Paulus Moreelse, but the city has, I think, only one of his pictures, and that not his best He was born in 1571, and he died at Utrecht in 1638. His portraits are very rich : either he had interesting sitters or he imparted interest to them. Opposite page 40 I have reproduced his portrait of a lady in the Ryks Museum at Amsterdam, which amongst so many fine pictures one may perhaps at the outset treat with too little ceremony, but which undoubtedly will assert itself. It is a picture that, as we say, grows on one : the Unknown Lady becomes more and more mischievous, more and more necessary.

The little Archiepiscopal Museum at Utrecht is as small —or as large—as a museum should be : one can see it comfortably. It has many treasures, all ecclesiastical, and seventy different kinds of lace ; but to me it is memorable for the panel portrait of a woman by Jan van Scorel, a very sweet sedate face, beautifully painted, which one would like to coax into a less religious mood.

Utrecht is very proud of a wide avenue of lime trees—a triple avenue, as one often sees in Holland—called the Maliebaan ; but more beautiful are the semi-circular Oude and Nieuwe Grachts, with their moat-like canals laving the walls of serene dignified houses, each gained by its own bridge.

At the north end of the Maliebaan is the Hoogeland Park, with a fringe of spacious villas that might be in Kensington ; and here is the Antiquarian Museum, notable among its very miscellaneous riches, which resemble the bankrupt stock of a curiosity dealer, for a very elaborate dolls’ house. Its date is 1680, and it represents accurately the home of a wealthy aristocratic doll of that day. Nothing was forgotten by the designer of this miniature palace ; special paintings, very nude, were made for its salon, and the humblest kitchen utensils are not missing. I thought the most interesting rooms the office where the Major Domo sits at his intricate labours, and the store closet The museum has many very valuable treasures, but so many poor pictures and articles—all presents or legacies—that one feels that it must be the rule to accept whatever is offered, without any scrutiny of the horse’s teeth.