FOR the next few days we lived on the Gate and under it and pretty nearly over it. It was such a satisfaction to James and me to live next to Middle-aged History, which period we are fast approaching, and be able at any time to run into it and lose ourselves in the Past of this remarkable land.
It is an interesting collection that is on exhibition in the two or three rooms of the Groothoofdspoort and its cupola. It is well worth the hours spent in it, if one would enter more fully into a conception of the paraphernalia of life, as it was lived in the seventeenth century when the great Dutch. masters were so fond of painting it. There is a chimney-piece from the Kloveniers-Doelen, a wonderful piece of wood-carving in old oak, perhaps the finest of its kind in the Netherlands. It is surmised that the master wood-carver, Terwen, had a hand in this. Such a work of art gives one an adequate idea of the rich interiors of these old doelen that have figured so largely in the annals of art and civic defense. But what pleased us most is an old door from the homestead of a certain Joost Smits of Dubbeldam, on which is painted the life-size figure of a man by Dordrecht’s own son, Albert Cuyp. I have seen nothing of Cuyp’s so human as this figure portrait of a well-to-do farmer for such it appears to be that looks out at you from the panels of the ancient door as if bidding you welcome to his home. I wondered if it might not be the ancestor of this same Joost Smits, at whose farmhouse Albert Cuyp had been a welcome guest, and one day in merry painting mood had left the portrait of his host as an autograph card on the hospitable door!
There is a fine collection of “penningen” and medals, memorializing pretty nearly everything connected with Dordrecht except its great artists. There is nothing for Nicolaes Maes, but plenty for the two great brothers, John and Cornelius de Witt. There is an Ary Scheffer Plein in the town, but no memorial to the town’s greatest sonNicolaes Maes. Time, I trust, and public sentiment will change this order of things.
Lou and Ben were generally with us on what we called our exploring parties, but none of us attempted to keep track of Lois. She declared she had fallen in love with Dordrecht and everything Dutch, and would like to spend a summer there. She spent part of her time trundling in the open one-horse car from the station to Great Head Gate, and loved to jingle through its arched way out upon the quay, where nothing prevents the horse from trotting into the Merwede but an instinct that directs him to remain on terra firma for his own good. She was to be found of a morning when the lights were cool on the water, in some one of the steigers, the short, narrow, sloping, paved, and stepped lanes between two houses. They serve as landing places from the Voorstraatshaven. Generally she was sketching that ever-charming view, beloved by artists.
Once, having missed her for a couple of hours, we traced her to the market-place. It was marketday, and she said she could never have enough of that special market held in Dordrecht. The peasants land their wares, or rather pile them, on the pavement of the narrow streets, or lay them out attractively in small port-able booths. It was a goodly sight: the flutter of the white caps over the eggs and butter, the earnest crowds about the vegetable display on the paving stones and about the booths that filled the Groenmarkt. These are crowded with cheap wares which vary from a pin and suspenders, to a looking-glass and wooden shoes. She learned to imitate a man who was a figure in this market; he was hawking his wares of blue earthen-ware by singing over and over some doggerel rhymed advertisement, the refrain of which ran “Blue, blue, blue.” It was part recitative, part singing; and the man, his blue wares, and his song were a charming adjunct of the crowded marketplace.
Ben did not seem to mind her presence, nor she his. They avoided being alone together, otherwise I should have judged both of them to be reconciled to the decree of Fate. After the first skirmish about the dog, the strained relations between them had ceased to be noticeable; but they had extended to the two dogs, and the condition became chronic. Bizzy was obliged to be kept at one end of The Broomstick, with Oom Kees to spoil him, and Lump at the other in Neeltje’s protecting care. Had it not been for these precautions, there would have been continuous scrappings. As it was, we used to hear wild scufflings and squeals and gurr-gurrings in the quiet evening hours when we went round to the Old Haven where The Broomstick was moored; and often in the daytime, when we paid a visit to the boat, we could see from afar Bizzy tied at the prow under the Stars and Stripes, and Lump chained aft under the Netherlands’ colors. As we drew nearer we could see both dogs fairly quivering and twitching with suppressed enmity, and hear them gurr-gurring at each other with the length of the boat between them!
I saw Lois, once when Ben was not looking, try to coax Bizzy to come to her, but he would have none of her without his adored master. I fancied she looked a little crestfallen for a moment; then she caressed Lump, rather effusively. Lump, being a Dutch dog and not demonstrative in affection, was rather impressed by this show of kindness, and, feeling sore over Ben’s apparent defection, he took the caress for genuine sentiment and attached himself to her thereafter.
It was Lois who found out, in hunting about for the house of Cornelius de Witt, a home for “Christ’s Folk” orphan girls and boys, old men and women, de-pendent on the charity of others and made friends with the good Sisters in charge. I know for a fact that she gave the old women afternoon coffee and cakes, and the girls ditto; that she counted among her acquaintances the Sister-cook, a grand-looking woman as large as a man. She was dressed wholly in white linen I saw her afterwards and her cap flaps were miniature jib-topsails. Her sixty loaves of bread, that she had put to rise when I visited her typical Dutch kitchen, were white and fine and light, for I lifted a loaf to test it. This woman was an artist in her way, as well as a devout follower of her Master. The Sister in charge took me into the chapel and the gardens surrounding it. In one green corner was a glistening shrine fully ten feet high and proportionately wide. It had been made by the artist-cook out of her cinders and coke refuse, out of the house breakage of plates, colored china bits, and glass! All the crannies and cracks were filled with growing trailing vines and delicate grasses.
Surely there are more ways than one of praising the Creator! But I shall never see a more unique, a more reverent, a more touching manifestation than this same cinder-shrine in the corner of the old garden near the Kerkbuurt in Dordrecht. It was only a Dutch cook’s hymn of praise, sung this time not in “unyielding stone,” but in the offscourings of the kitchen fires; yet I place her work, for the spirit in which it was done, with Fra Angelico’s Virgin and Saints that one used to see in St. Mark’s in Florence, with Bishop Bernward’s bronzes in the Cathedral of Hildesheim, and with Terwen’s wood-carvings in the Groote Kerk of Dort.
These carvings of the choir-stalls in the Groote Kerk should be seen by every one interested in the developing Art of the Netherlands during the sixteenth century, the precursor of Rembrandt’s and the century of Durer and Holbein, of Moreelse and Van Scorel. Here again we find, as in Gouda’s windows, something of the de. parted glory of the Netherlands.
We gave a part of two forenoons to the study of this work, the finest of its kind in the country. What must these great churches have been in the full glory of their carvings in wood, their sculptures in stone, their mural paintings, their masterpieces at the altars, their beaten brass and gold and silver ? Nowadays one has only an intimation here and there of what has been: a whitewashed pillar has been scraped and shows beneath the lime the original coloring; here and there in the museums one finds the bits of carving in wood and the broken sculpture in stone; that is all that remains.
In these carvings we find the expression of the two great governing forces of the civilized world about the middle of the sixteenth century. They body forth the spiritual and the temporal power: the power of Christianity through the medium of the Church, and the power of sovereignty in the triumph of Charles the Fifth.
When this great artist, Jan Terwen Aertsz, desired to rest both body and soul from his labors with the lords spiritual and temporal, he carved just an every-day peasant with his basket of eggs ready for the market in Dort a woven willow basket, of the pattern of today, carved with all the loving care that he put into the rich trappings of the Emperor’s following, or the folds of the Virgin’s mantle. He gave his imagination free rein in depicting the lesser things of life; we find the lower animals, a bat, two dogs, a bird – the catalogue of them all would fill a quarto enjoying jokes of their own, and playing pranks on their kind. But these works take a low place in the synagogue. They are carved low down on the seats, far removed from the grand friezes behind the rows of stalls, and their triumphant processions. There is caste even here in Art!
How the poor artists have struggled throughout the centuries to represent Jonah and the Whale, and how ill they have succeeded in their wood and stone interpretations of this episode! It was too much for Artist Terwen, and he solved his difficulties in his own way: he carved the finest kind of a man for Jonah, and then showed him dangling a neat little fish about the size, in miniature, of a rock-cod in his left hand! He is swinging along in the most nonchalant manner, and we perceive him to be not the Jonah of old, but a sturdy Dort fisherman with a good-sized salmon in his hand! “Never mind !” I can hear Terwen say to himself, “I can’t put a leviathan of the sea into a space of a few square inches, and a man inside the fish, yet Scripture must be upheld and endorsed in Art so here goes for Jonah.” It is a delightful bit of fun and carving combined.
There are two carvings here to which I should like to call the attention of anyone interested in this special work. One is on the end seat of the row of stalls towards the windows in the round of the apse, and the other on the end of the opposite row across the choir. Both face the eastern window of the apse; they are the last, or first, carvings of the hundreds and hundreds of figures presented in the whole great work. Both face the East,that Jerusalem towards which the architects of old built the apse as towards the shrine of Christianity. One is a small Mater Dolorosa, mutilated and worn as are most of the other figures, but in pose so perfect that we can but wonder if Carlo Dolci took it for a model for his famous painting of the Virgin of the Finger in the Uffizi. The other, the “man of sorrows,” an Ecce Homo that is own brother to that famous one by Rodin in the Royal Gallery at Brussels.
There is a depth of meaning in every one of these tiny carvings, for in this art, as in painting, the poet-soul in the artist interprets subjectively the common life of Humanity a mother’s pain, a son’s bowed shoulders and sweat of toiling agony. All this will endure so long as nature lasts, and man, the best of nature.
As we lingered in the choir, there were audible the softest, sweetest organ tones, rising, swelling to an almost unearthly harmony, then sinking to the merest melodious whisper. The organist; so the sacristan said, was rehearsing for a provincial Musical Fest, or convention, to be given in a week. The acoustic properties of the choir proved to be perfect. At last we took our seats in the stalls in order to enjoy this unexpected treat. The sun was shining brightly, and the fine old church white pillared, white arched, and white groined as seen across the great brass screen was radiant with a kind of shining purity of line, as it was filled with a corresponding purity of tone.
What was our surprise when, the music having ceased for a moment, we heard America roll forth from the organ loft, and awaken splendid echoes in the Groote Kerk of Dort! We five came to our feet as one, and remained standing while the organist gave us Hail Columbia with full stops, I feel sure, for it fairly thundered in the upper reaches of the nave. We all broke into singing, and the two men kept time with their feet just as a vent for their patriotic fervor! Then came the grand choral, Luther’s Hymn, Fin’ feste Burg ist unser Gott A sure stronghold our Lord is He followed by Nun danket Mie Gott, and ending with the National Hymn of the Netherlands.
I think no happier party of Americans ever went forth of a June morning from the Great Church of Dordrecht.
Dear old Dort! We were loath to leave it: its Old Haven and New Haven, its Great Head Gate, its lovely old houses and their carved poortjes, its Wynstraat, where the casked Rhine wine that brought such riches to the old city stands no longer in the cellars, its Voorstraatshaven, and its steigers from which you catch a glimpse of the great tower. It was a trial to leave Zwÿndrecht, just across the ferry from St. Catherine’s Gate, without seeing its dainty “Green” market once more. Fancy an old street leading direct from the ferry and shaded on one side by trees, its pavements, for the entire length and around the corner, laid with a bright and perfectly regular mosaic of willow baskets filled with bright red strawberries, darker raspberries, yellow and green gurken and early vegetables covered, in part, with fresh vine leaves I
But Zeeland and its islands, and the Captain were calling loudly to us to come. The Captain wrote that he would meet us within two days at Tholen, as his furlough began then, and he wanted the pleasure of giving every day to James and me. Ah, little he knew that that pleasure was to be heightened for him by our recent feminine edition of America! We had told the gills of his coming, and they were primed with curiosity. But we had said nothing to the Captain; we wanted to surprise him pleasantly. Moreover, Time would not wait, not even in Holland, where apparently everything is perfectly willing to wait for something else.
The Broomstick was brought alongside the Merwe-Kade, immaculate from stem to stern;these two parts of the ship, by the way, were ornamented with the live figurehead of a dog barking frantic welcome. There was a fine breeze; the Stars and Stripes floated from the mast-head; the burnt-sienna sail filled almost before Oom Kees poled her nose from the quay, and our host stood smiling farewell beneath the trees near the Great Head Gate. The two halves of the High Bridge were being hoisted in mid-air for a passing tjalk, and the carillon in the great tower was ringing nine, as we left the Merwe-Kade, and watched the beautiful old town fade, like a dream of Albert Cuyp’s painting, into the eastern brightness of blended sea and sky.
“Dear old Dort!” Lois exclaimed, as she leaned to catch the last glimpse of that Great Head Gate, which bears the grand inscription on its façade: Be Thou my keeper, O God Jehovah; and “Dear old Dort!” we echoed.
In that, is said all that has been left unsaid.