Netherlands – Groningen To Zutphen

I REMEMBER the Doelen at Groningen for several reasons, all of them thoroughly material. (Holland is, however, a material country.) First I would put the very sensible custom of providing every guest who has ordered tea for breakfast with a little tea caddy. At the foot of the table is a boiling urn from which one fills one’s teapot, and is thus assured of tea that is fresh. So simple and reasonable a habit ought to be the rule rather than the exception : but never have I found it elsewhere. This surely is civilisation, I said.

The Doelen was also the only inn in Holland where an inclusive bottle of claret was placed before me on the table ; and it was the only inn where I had the opportunity of eating ptarmigan with stewed apricots—a very happy alliance.

Good however as was the Groningen dinner, it was a Sunday dinner at the Leeuwarden Doelen which remains in my memory. This also is a friendly unspoiled northern inn, where the bill of fare is arranged with a nice thought to the requirements of the Free Frisian. I kept no note of the meal, but I recollect the occurrence at one stage of plovers’ eggs (which the Dutch eat hot, dropping them into cold water for an instant to ensure the easy removal of the shell), and at another, some time later, of duckling with prunes.

The popularity of the name Doelen as a Dutch sign might have a word of explanation. Doelen means target, or shooting saloon ; and shooting at the mark was a very common and useful recreation with the Dutch in the sixteenth century. At first the shooting clubs met only to shoot—as in the case of the arquebusiers in Rembrandt’s “Night Watch,” who are painted leaving their Doelen; later they became more social and the accessories of sociability were added ; and after a while the accessories of sociability crowded out the shooting altogether, and nothing but an inn with the name Doelen remained of what began as a rifle gallery.

At Groningen, which is a large prosperous town, and the birthplace both of Josef Israels and H. W. Mesdag, cheese and dairy produce are left behind. We are now in the grain country. Groningen is larger than Leeuwarden —it has nearly seventy thousand inhabitants—and its evening light seemed to me even more beautifully liquid. I sat for a long time in a café overlooking the great square, feeding a very greedy and impertinent terrier, and alternately watching an endless game of billiards and the changing hue of the sky as day turned to night and the clean white stars came out. In Holland one can sit very long in cafés : I had dined and left a table of forty Dutch-men just settling down to their wine, at six o’clock, with the whole evening before me.

Groningen takes very good care of itself. It has trams, excellent shops and buildings, a crowded inland harbour, and a spreading park where once were its fortifications. The mounds in this park were the first hills I had seen since Laren. The church in the market square is immense, with a high tower of bells that kept me awake, but had none of the soothing charm of Long John at Middelburg, whose praises it will soon be my privilege to sound. The only rich thing in the whitewashed vastnesses of the church is the organ, built more than four hundred years ago by Rudolph Agricola of this province. I did not hear it.

At Groningen Roman Catholic priests become noticeable —so different in their stylish coats, square hats and canes, from the blue-chinned kindly slovens that one meets in the Latin countries. (In the train near Nymwegen, however, where the priests wear beavers, I travelled with a humorous old voluptuary who took snuff at every station and was as threadbare as one likes a priest to be.) Looking into the new Roman Catholic church at Groningen I found a little company of restless boys, all eyes, from whom at regular intervals were detached a reluctant and perfunctory couple to do the Stations of the Cross. I came as something like a godsend to those that remained, who had no one to super-vise them ; and feeling it as a mission I stayed resolutely in the church long after I was tired of it, writing a little and examining the pictures by Hendriex, a modern painter too much after the manner of the Christmas supplement—studied the while by this band of scrutinising penitents. I hope I was as interesting and beguiling as I tried to be. And all the time, exactly opposite the Roman Catholic church, was reposing in the library of the University no less a treasure than the New Testament of Erasmus, with marginal notes by Martin Luther. There it lay, that afternoon, within call, while the weary boys pattered from one Station of the Cross to another, little reeking the part played by their country in sapping the power of the faith they themselves were fostering, and knowing nothing of the ironical contiguity of Luther’s comments.

By leaving Groningen very early in the morning I gained another proof of the impossibility of rising before the Dutch. In England one can easily be the first down in any hotel—save for a sleepy boots or waiter. Not so in Holland. It was so early that I am able to say nothing of the country between Groningen and Meppel, the capital of the peat trade, save that it was peaty: heather and fir trees, shallow lakes and men cutting peat, as far as eye could reach on either side.

Here in the peat country I might quote a very pretty Dutch proverb : “There is no fuel more entertaining than wet wood and frozen peat : the wood sings and the peat listens “. The Dutch have no lack of folk lore, but the casual visitor has not the opportunity of collecting very much. When there is too much salt in the dish they say that the cook is in love. When a three-cornered piece of peat is observed in the fire, a visitor is coming. When bread has large holes in it, the baker is said to have pursued his wife through the loaf. When a wedding morning is rainy, it is because the bride has forgotten to feed the cat.

I tarried awhile at Zwolle on the Yssel (a branch of the Rhine), because at Zwolle was born in 1617 Gerard Terburg, one of the greatest of Dutch painters, of whom I have spoken in the chapter on Amsterdam’s pictures. Of his life we know very little ; but he travelled to Spain (where he was knighted. and where he learned not a little of use in his art), and also certainly to France, and possibly to England. At Haarlem, where he lived fer a while, he worked in Flans Hals’ studio, and then he settled down at Deventer, a few miles south of Zwolle, married, and became in time Burgomaster of the town. He died at Deventer in 1681. Zwolle has none of his pictures, and does not appear to value his memory. Nor does Deventer. How Terburg looked as Burgomaster of Deventer is seen in his portrait of himself in the Mauritshuis at The Hague. It was not often that the great Dutch painters rose to civic eminence. Rembrandt became a bankrupt, Frans Hals was on the rates, Jan Steen drank all his earnings. Of all Terburg’s great contemporaries Gerard Dou seems to have had most sense of prosperity and position ; but his interests were wholly in his art.

Terburg is not the only famous name at Zwolle. It was at the monastery on the Agneteberg, three miles away, that the author of The Imitation of Christ lived for more than sixty years and wrote his deathless book.

I roamed through Zwolle’s streets for some time. It is a bright town, with a more European air than many in Holland, agreeable drives and gardens, where (as at Groningen) were once fortifications, and a very fine old gateway called ‘the Saxenpoort, with four towers and five spires and very pretty window shutters in white and blue. The Groote Kerk is of unusual interest. It is five hundred years old and famous for its very elaborate pulpit—a little cathedral in itself—and an organ. Zwolle also has an ancient church which retains its original religion—the church of Notre Dame, with a crucifix curiously protected by iron bars. I looked into the stadhuis to see a Gothic council room and smoked meditatively among the stalls of a little flower market, wondering why some of the costumes of Holland are so charming and others so un-pleasing. A few dear old women in lace caps were present, but there were also younger women who had made their pretty heads ugly with their decorations.

At Zwolle M. Havard was disappointed to find no wax figure of the famous wild girl found in the Cranenburg Forest in 1718. She roamed its recesses almost naked for some time, eluding all capture, but was at last taken with nets and conveyed to Zwolle. As she could not be under-stood, an account of her was circulated widely, and at length a woman in Antwerp who had lost a daughter in 1702 heard of her, and on reaching Zwolle immediately recognised her as her child. The magistrates, accepting the story, handed the girl to her affectionate parent, who at once set about exhibiting her throughout the country at a great profit. The story illustrates either the credulity of magistrates or the practical character of some varieties of maternal love.

Kampen, nearer the mouth of the Yssel, close to Zwolle, is exceedingly well worth visiting. The two towns are very different : Zwolle is patrician, Kampen plebeian ; Zwolle suggests wealth and light-heartedness; at Kampen there is a large fishing population and no one seems to be wealthy. Indeed, being without municipal rates, it is, I am told, a refuge of the needy. Any old town that is on a river, and that river a mouth of the Rhine, is good enough for me ; but when it is also a treasure house of mediaeval architecture one’s cup is full. And Kampen has many treasures : beautiful fourteenth-century gateways, narrow quaint streets, a cheerful isolated campanile, a fine church, and the greater portion of an odd but wholly delightful stadhuis in red brick and white stone, with a gay little crooked bell-tower and statues of great men and great qualities on its façade.

For one possession alone, among many, the stadhuis must be visited—its halls of justice, veritable paradises of old oak, with a very wonderful fireplace. The halls are really one, divided by a screen ; in one half, the council room, sat the judges, in the other the advocates, and, I suppose, the public. The advocates addressed the screen, on the other side of which sat Fate, in the persons of the municipal fathers, enthroned in oak seats of unsurpassed gravity and dignity, amid all the sombre insignia of their office. The chimney-piece is an imposing monument of ab- stract Justice—no more elaborate one can exist. Solomon is there, directing the distribution of the baby; Faith and Truth, Law, Religion and Charity are there also. Never can a tribunal have had a more appropriate setting than at Kampen. The Rennes judiciaries should have sat there, to lend further ironical point to their decision.

The stadhuis has other possessions interesting to antiquaries : valuable documents, gold and silver work, the metal and leather squirts through which boiling oil was projected at the enemies of the town ; while an iron cage for criminals, similar, I imagine, to that in which Jan of Leyden was exhibited, hangs outside.

Travellers visit Kampen pre-eminently to see the stadhuis chimney-piece and oak, but the whole town is a museum. I wish now that I had arranged to be longer there; but unaware of Kampen’s charms I allowed but a short time both for Zwolle and itself. On my next visit to Holland Kampen shall be my headquarters for some days. Amid the restfulness of medievalism, the friendliness of the fishing folk and the breezes of the Zuyder Zee, one should do well. A boat from Amsterdam to Kampen sails every morning.

Despite its Judgment Hall and its other merits Kampen is the Dutch Gotham. Any foolishly naive speech or action is attributed to Kampen’s wise men. In one story the fathers of the town place the municipal sundial under cover to protect it from the rays of the sun. In another they meet together to deliberate on the failure of the water pipes and fire engines during a fire, and pass a rule that ” on the evening preceding a fire” all hydrants and engines must be overhauled. M. Havard gives also the following instance of Kampen sagacity. A public functionary was explaining the financial state of the town. He asserted that one of the principal profits arose from the tolls exacted on the entrance of goods into the town. ” Each gate,” said the ingenious advocate, “has brought in ten million florins this year ; that is to say, with seven gates we have gained seventy million florins. This is a most important fact. I therefore propose that the council double the number of gates, and in this way we shall in future considerably augment our funds.” The Irishman who, when asked to buy a stove that would save half his fuel, replied that he would have two and save it all, was of the same school of logic.

From Kampen the island of Urk may be visited : but I have not been there. In 1787, I have read somewhere, the inhabitants of Urk decided to form a club in which to practise military exercises and the use of arms. When the club was formed it had but one member. Hence a Dutch saying It is the Urk club “.

Nor did I stay at Deventer, but hastened on to Zutphen with my thoughts straying all the time to the grey walls of Penshurst castle in Kent and its long galleries filled with memories of Sir Philip Sidney—the gentle knight who was a boy there, and who died at Arnheim of a wound which he received in the siege of Zutphen three and a quarter centuries ago.

At Naarden we have seen how terrible was the destroying power of the Spaniards. It was at Zutphen that they had first given rein to their lust for blood. When Zutphen was taken by Don Frederic in 157e, at the beginning of the war, Motley tells us that “Alva sent orders to his son to leave not a single man alive in the city, and to burn every house to the ground. The Duke’s command was almost literally obeyed. Don Frederic entered Zutphen, and without a moment’s warning put the whole garrison to the sword. The citizens next fell a defenceless prey ; some being stabbed in the streets, some hanged on the trees which decorated the city, some stripped stark naked, and turned out into the fields to freeze to death in the wintry night. As the work of death became too fatiguing for the butchers, five hundred innocent burghers were tied two and two, back to back, and drowned like dogs in the river Yssel. A few stragglers who had contrived to elude pursuit at first, were afterwards taken from their hiding-places, and hung upon the gallows by the feet, some of which victims suffered four days and nights of agony before death came to their relief.”

On the day that I was in Zutphen it was the quietest town I had found in all Holland—not excepting Monnickendam between the arrival of the steam-trams. The clean bright streets were empty and still : another massacre almost might just have occurred. I had Zutphen to myself. I could not even find the koster to show me the church ; and it was in trying door after door as I walked round it that I came upon the only sign of life in the place. For one handle at last yielding I found myself instantly in a small chapel filled with many young women engaged in a scripture class. The sudden irruption of an embarrassed and I imagine somewhat grotesque foreigner seems to have been exactly what every member of this little congregation was most desiring, and I never heard a merrier or more spontaneous burst of laughter. I stood not upon the order of my going.

The church is vast and very quiet and restful, with a large plain window of green glass that increases its cool freshness; while the young leaves of a chestnut close to another window add to this effect. The koster coming at last, I was shown the ancient chained library in the chapter house, and he enlarged upon the beauties of a metal font. Wandering out again into this city of silence I found in the square by the church an exhibition of wax works which was to be opened at four o’clock. Making a note to return to it at that hour, I sought the river, where the timber is floated down from the German forests, and lost my-self among peat barges and other craft, and walked some miles in and about Zutphen, and a little way down a trickling stream whence the view of the city is very beautiful ; and by-and-by found myself by the church and the wax works again, in a town that since my absence had quite filled with bustling people —four o’clock having struck and the Princess of the Day Dream having (I sup-pose) been kissed. The change was astonishing.

Wax works always make me uncomfortable, and these were no exception ; but the good folk of Zutphen found them absorbing. The murderers stood alone, staring with that fixity which only a wax assassin can compass; but for the most part the figures were arranged in groups with dramatic intent. Here was a confessional ; there a fare-well between lovers ; here a wounded Boer meeting his death at the bayonet of an English dastard ; there a Queen Eleanor sucking poison from her husband’s arm. A series of illuminated scenes of rapine and disaster might be studied through magnifying glasses, The presence of a wax bust of Zola was due, I imagine, less to his illustrious career than to the untoward circumstances of his death. The usual Sleeping Beauty heaved her breast punctually in the centre of the tent.

In one point only did the exhibition differ from the wax works of the French and Italian fairs—it was undeviatingly decent. There were no jokes, and no physiological models. But the Dutch, I should conjecture, are not morbid. They have their coarse fun, laugh, and get back to business again. Judged by that new short-cut to a nation’s moral tone, the picture postcard, the Dutch are quite sound.