Netherlands – Scheveningen And Katwyk

GOOD Dutchmen when they die go to Scheveningen ; but my heaven is elsewhere. To go thither is, however, no calamity, so long as one chooses the old road. It is being there that so lowers the spirits. The Onde Scheveningen Weg is perhaps the pleasantest, and certainly the shadiest, road in Holland : not one avenue but many, straight as a line in Euclid. On either side is a spreading wood, among the trees of which, on the left hand, as one leaves The Hague, is Sorgh Vliet, once the retreat of old Jacob Cats, lately one of the residences of a royal Duke, and now sold to a building company. The road dates from 1666, its projector being Constantin Huyghens, poet and statesman, whose statue may be seen at the half-way halting-place. By the time this is reached the charm of the road is nearly over : thenceforward it is all villas and Scheveningen.

But we must pause for a little while at Sorgh Vliet (which has the same meaning as Sans Souci), where two hundred years ago lived in genial retirement the writer who best represents the shrewd sagacity of the Dutch character—Jacob Cats, or Vader Cats as he was affectionately called, the author of the Dutch “Household Bible,” a huge miscellaneous collection of wise saws and modern instances, humour and satire, upon all the businesses of life.

Austin Dobson, who left grains of gold on all he touched, has described in his Side-Walk Studies the huge illustrated edition of Cats’ Works (Amsterdam, 1655) which is held sacred in all rightly constituted old-fashioned Dutch households. I have seen it at the British Museum, and it seems to me to be one of the best picture-books in the world.

As Mr. Dobson says, the life of old Holland is reproduced in it. ” What would one not give for such an illustrated copy of Shakespeare ! In these pages of Jacob Cats we have the authentic Holland of the seventeenth century : —its vanes and spires and steep-roofed houses ; its gardens with their geometric tulip-beds, their formally-clipped alleys and arches, their shining parallelograms of water. Here are its old-fashioned interiors, with the deep fire-places and queer andirons, the huge four-posters, the prim portraits on the wall, the great brass-clamped coffers and carved armories for the ruffs and starched collars and stiff farthingales of the women. In one picture you may see the careful housewife mournfully inspecting a moth-eaten garment which she has just taken from a chest that Wardour Street might envy ; in another she is energetically cuffing the ‘ foolish fat scullion,’ who has let the spotted Dalmatian coach-dog overturn the cauldron at the fire. Here an old crone, with her spectacles on, is cautiously probing the contents of the said cauldron with a fork ; here the mistress of the house is peeling pears ; here the plump and soft-hearted cheese-wife is entertaining an admirer—outside there are pictures as vivid. Here are the clumsy leather-topped coach with its masked occupant and stumbling horses ; the towed trekschuit, with its merry freight, sliding swiftly through the low-lying landscape ; the windy mole, stretching seaward, with its blown and flaring beacon-fire. Here again in the street is the toy-shop with its open front and store of mimic drums and halberds for the martial little burghers ; here are the fruiterers with her stall of grapes and melons, the rat-catcher with his string of trophies, the fowler and his clap-net, the furrier with his stock of skins.”

In 1860 a number of Van der Venue’s best pictures were redrawn by John Leighton to accompany translations of the fables by Richard Pigot. As a taste of Cats’ quality I quote two of the pieces. Why the pictures should have been redrawn when they might have been reproduced exactly is beyond my understanding.

From these rhymes, with their home-spun philosophy, one might assume Cats to have been merely a witty peasant. But he was a man of the highest culture, a great jurist, twice ambassador to England, where Charles I. laid his sword on his shoulder and bade him rise Sir Jacob, a traveller and the friend of the best intellects. From an interesting article on Dutch poetry in an old Foreign, Quarterly Review I take an account of the aphorist: Vondel had for his contemporary a man, of whose popularity we can hardly give an idea, unless we say that to speak Dutch and to have learnt Cats by heart, are almost the same thing. Old Father Jacob Cats—(we beg to apologize for his unhappy name—and know not why, like the rest of his countrymen, he did not euphonize it into some well-sounding epithet, taken from Greece or Rome-Elouros, for example, or Felisius ; Catsius was ventured upon by his contemporaries, but the honest grey-beard stuck to his paternities)—was a man of practical wisdom —great experience—much travel—considerable learning—and wonderful fluency. He had occupied high offices of state, and retired a patriarch amidst children and children’s children, to that agreeable retreat which we mentioned as not far from The Hague, where we have often dreamed his sober and serious—but withal cheerful and happy, spirit, might still preside. His moralities are sometimes prolix, and sometimes rather dull. He often sweeps the bloom away from the imaginative anticipations of youth—and in that does little service. He will have everything substantial, useful, permanent. He has no other notion of love than that it is meant to make good husbands and wives, and to produce painstaking and obedient children.

” His poetry is rhymed counsel—kind, wise, and good. He calculates all results, and has no mercy for thoughts, or feelings, or actions, which leave behind them weariness, regret or misery. His volumes are a storehouse of prudence and worldly wisdom. For every state of life he has fit lessons, so nicely dovetailed into rhyme, that the morality seems made expressly for the language, or the language for the morality. His thoughts—all running about among the duties of life—voluntarily move in harmonious numbers, as if to think and to rhyme were one solitary attribute. For the nurse who wants a song for her babe—the boy who is tormented by the dread of the birch—the youth whose beard begins to grow—the lover who desires a posey for his lady’s ring—for the husbandfather—grandsire—for all there is a store—to encourage—to console—and to be grateful for. The titles of his works are indices to their contents. Among them are De Ouderdam, Old Age ; Buyten Leven, Out-of-Doors Life ; Hofgedachten, Garden Thoughts; Gedachten op Slapelooze Nachten, Thoughts of Sleepless Nights ; Trouwring, Marriage Ring ; Zelfstriit, Self-struggle, etc. Never was a poet so essentially the poet of the people. He is always intelligible-always sensible—and, as was well said of him by Kruijiff,

When President Kruger died, in 1904, the memoirs of him agreed in fixing upon the Bible as his only reading. But I am certain he knew Vader Cats by heart too. If ever a master had a faithful pupil, Vader Cats had one in Qom Paul. The vivid yet homely metaphors and allegories in which Oom Paul conveyed so many of his thoughts were drawn from the same source as the emblems of Vader Cats. Both had the Aesopian gift.

We have no one English writer with whom to compare Cats ; but a syndicate formed of Fuller and Burton, Cobbett and Quarles might produce something akin.

Scheveningen is half squalid town, half monstrous pleasure resort. Upon its sea ramparts are a series of gigantic buildings, greatest of which is the Curhaus, where the best music in Holland is to be heard. Its pier and its promenade are not at the first glimpse unlike Brighton’s ; but the vast buildings have no counterpart with us, except perhaps at Blackpool. What is, however, peculiar to Scheveningen is its expanse of sand covered with sentry-box wicker chairs. To stand on the pier on a fine day in the season and look down on these thousands of chairs and people is to receive an impression of insect-like activity that I think cannot be equalled. Immovable as they are, the chairs seem to add to the restlessness of the seething mass. What a visitor from Mars would make of it is a mystery ; but he could hardly fail to connect chair and occupant. Here, he would say, is surely the abode of giant snails !

On a windy day the chairs must be of great use ; but in heat they seem to me too vertical and too hard. One must, however, either sit in them or lie upon sand. There is not a pebble on the whole coast : indeed there is not a pebble in Holland. Life after lying upon sand can become to some of us a burden almost too difficult to bear; but the Dutch holiday-maker does not seem to find it so. As for the children, they are truly in Paradise. There can be no sand better to dig in than that of Scheveningen ; and they dig in it all day. A favourite game seems to be to surround the parental sentry-boxes with a fosse. Every family has its castle, and every castle its moat.

I have been twice to Scheveningen, and on each occasion I acquired beneath its glittering magnitude a sense of depression. That leaven of tenderness which every collection of human beings must have was harder to find at Scheveningen than anywhere in Holland—everything was so ordered, so organised, for pleasure, pleasure at any price, pleasure almost at the point of the bayonet.

But on the second occasion one little incident saved the day—an encounter with a strolling bird-fancier who dealt in Black-Headed Mannikins. Two of these tiny brisk birds, in their Quaker black and brown, sat upon his cane to attract purchasers. They fluttered to his finger, perched on his hat, simulated death in the palm of his hand, and went through other evolutions with the speed of thought and the bright spontaneous alacrity possible only to a small loyal bird. These, however, were not for sale : these were decoys ; the saleable birds lay, packed far too close, in little wooden boxes in the man’s bag. And Scheveningen to me means no longer a mile of palaces, no longer a ” hot huddle of humanity ” on the sand among myriad sentry-boxes: its symbol is just two Black-Headed Mannikins.

From the Curhaus it is better to return to The Hague by electric tram along the new road. Save for passing a field where the fishwives of Scheveningen in their blue shawls spread and mend their nets, this road is dull and suburban; but from it, when the light is failing, a view of Scheveningen’s domes and spires may be gained which, softened and made mysterious by the gloaming, translates the chief watering-place of Holland into an Eastern city of romance.

The fishwives of Scheveningen, I am told, carry the art of petticoat wearing to a higher point than any of their sisters. The appearance of the homing fleet in the offing is a signal for as many as thirty of these garments to be put on as a mark of welcome to a returning husband.

Probably no shore anywhere in the world has been so often painted as that of Scheveningen-ever since the painting of landscape seemed a worthy pursuit. James Maris’ pictures of Scheveningen’s wet sand, grey sea, and huge flat-bottomed ships must run into scores ; Mesdag’s too. Perhaps it was the artists that prevailed on the fisher. men to wear crimson knickerbockers—the note of warm colour that the scene demands.

Here, although it is separated from Scheveningen by some miles of sand, I should like to say something of Katwyk—which is Leyden’s marine resort. A steam-tram carries people thither many times a day. The rail, when first I travelled upon it, in April, ran through tulips ; in August, when I was there again, the patches of scarlet and orange had given way to acres of massive purple-green cabbages which, in the evening light, were vastly more beautiful.

At Rynsburg, one of the villages on the way, dwelt in 1650-51 Benedict Spinoza, the philosopher, and there he wrote his abridgement of the Meditations of Descartes, his master in philosophy, who had for a while lived close by at Endegeest. Spinoza, who was born at A msterdam in 1682, died in 1677. His house at Rynsburg, which he shared with a Colleginat (one of a sect of Remonstrants who had their headquarters there) is now a Spinoza museum ; his statue is at The Hague.

Katwyk-an-Zee is a compact little pleasure resort with the usual fantastic childish villas. Its most interesting possession is the mouth of the Old Rhine, now restricted by a canal and controlled by locks. There is perhaps no better example of the Dutch power over water than the contrast between the present narrow canal through which the river must disembogue and the unprofitable marsh which once spread here. The locks, which are nearly a hundred years old, were among the works of the engineer Conrad, whose monument is in Haarlem church.

From the Old Rhine’s mouth to Noordwyk is a lonely but very bracing walk of three miles along the sand, with the dunes on one’s right hand and the sea on one’s left. One may meet perhaps a few shell gatherers, but no one else. We drove before us all the way a white company consisting of a score of gulls, twice as many tern, two oyster catchers and one curlew. They rose and settled, rose and settled, always some thirty yards away, until Noordwyk was reached; when we left them behind. Never was a Japanese screen so realised as by these birds against the pearl grey sea and yellow sand.

Katwyk is more cheery than Noordwyk ; but Noordwyk has a prettier street-indeed, in its old part there is no prettier street in Holland in the light of sunset. As Hastings is to Eastbourne, so is Katwyk to Noordwyk Scheveningen is Brighton, Yarmouth, and Blackpool in one. A very pretty lace cap is worn at Noordwyk by villagers and visitors alike, to hold the hair against the west wind.

From Noordwyk we walked to Noordwyk-Binnen, the real town, parent of the seaside resort ; and there, at a table at the side of the main street, by an avenue so leafy as to exclude even glints of the sky, we sipped something Dutch whose name I could not assimilate, and waited for the tram for Leyden. It was the greenest tunnel I ever saw.