ALTHOUGH often akin to the English, the Dutch character differs from it very noticeably in the matter of precision. The Englishman has little precision ; the Dutchman has too much. He bends everything to it. He has at its dictates divided his whole country into parellelograms. Even the rushes in his swamps are governed by the same law. The carelessness of nature is offensive to him ; he moulds and trains on every hand, as one may see on the railway journey to The Hague. Trees he endures only so long as they are obedient and equidistant : he likes them in avenues or straight lines ; if they grow otherwise they must be pollarded. It is true that he has not touched the Bosch, at The Hague ; but since his hands perforce have been kept off its trees, he has run scores of formal straight well-gravelled paths beneath their brancha.
This passion for interference grew perhaps from exultation upon successful dealings with the sea. A man who by his own efforts can live in security below sea-level, and graze cattle luxuriantly where sand and pebbles and salt once made a desert, has perhaps the right to feel that everything in nature would be the better for a little manipulation. Eyes accustomed to the careless profusion that one may see even on a short railway journey in England are shocked to find nature so tractable both in land and water.
The Dutchman’s pruning, however, is not done solely for the satisfaction of exerting control. These millions of pollarded willows which one sees from the line have a deeper significance than might ever be guessed at : it is they that are keeping out Holland’s ancient enemy, the sea. In other words, a great part of the basis of the strength of the-dykes is imparted by interwoven willow boughs, which are constantly being renewed under the vigilant eyes of the dyke inspectors. For the rest, the inveterate trimming of trees must be a comparatively modern custom, for many of the old landscapes depict careless foliageKoninck’s particularly. And look, for instance, at that wonderful picture perhaps the finest landscape in Dutch artRembrandt’s etching “The Three Trees”. There is nothing in North Holland to-day as unstudied as that. I doubt if you could now find three trees of such individuality and courage.
When I was first at The Hague, in 1898, I stayed at a retired hostelry, spacious and antiquated, with large empty rooms, and cool passages, and an air of decay over all. Servants one never saw, nor any waiter proper ; one’s every need was carried out by a very small and very enthusiastic boy. “Is the hroom good, sare ? ” he asked, and he flung open the door of the bedroom with a superb flourish. ” Is the sham good, sare ? ” he asked as he laid a pot of preserve on the table. He was the landlady’s son or grandson, and a better boy never lived, but his part, for all his spirit and good humour, was a tragic one. For the greatest misfortune that can come upon an hotel-keeper had crushed this house : Baedeker had excised their star !
The landlady moved in the background, a disconsolate figure with a grievance. She waylaid us as we went out and as we came in. Was it not a good hotel ? Was not the management excellent ? Had we any complaints ? And yetseeonce she had a star and now it was gone. Could we not help to regain it ? Here was the secret of the grandson’s splendid zeal. The little fellow was fighting to hitch the old hotel to a star once more, as Emerson had bidden.
Alas, it was in vain ; for that was now many years ago, and Baedeker still withholds the distinction. What a variety of misfortune this little world holds ! While some of us are indulging our right to be unhappy over a thousand trivial matters, such as illness and disillusion, there are inn-keepers on the Continent who are staggering and struggling under real blows.
I wondered if it were better to have had a star and lost it, than never to have had a star at all. But I did not ask. The old lady’s grief was too poignant, her mind too practical, for such questions.
S’Gravenhage, or Den Haag, or The Hague as we call it, being the seat of the court, is at once the most civilised and most expensive of the Dutch cities. But it is not conspicuously Dutch, and is interesting rather for its pictures and for its score of historic buildings about the Vyver than for itself. Take away the Vyver and its surrounding treasures and a not very noteworthy European town would remain.
And yet to say so hardly does justice to this city, for it has a character of its own that renders it unique : cosmopolitan and elegant ; catholic in its tastes ; indulgent to strangers ; aristocratic ; well-spaced and well built ; above all things, bland.
And the Vyver is a jewel set in its midst, beautiful by day and beautiful by night, with fascinating reflections in it at both times, and a special gift for the transmission of bells in a country where bells are really honoured. On its north side is the Vyverberg with pleasant trees and a row of spacious and perfectly self-composed white houses.
On the south side are the Binnenhof and the Mauritshuisin the Mauritshuis being the finest works of the two greatest Dutch painters, Rembrandt of the Rhine and Vermeer of Delft. It is largely by these possessions that The Hague holds her place as a city of distinction.
Rembrandt’s ” School of Anatomy ” and Paul Potter’s “Bull” are the two pictures by which every one knows this collection ; and it is the bull which maintains the steadier and larger crowd. But it is not a work that interests me particularly. If any large number of visitors to Holland taken at random were asked to name the best of Rembrandt’s pictures they would probably say the ” Night Watch”. But I fancy that a finer quality went to the making of the “School of Anatomy “. I fancy that the “School of Anatomy” is the greatest work of art produced by northern Europe. My pictures in the Mauritshuis are above all the “School of Anatomy,” Vermeer’s “View of Delft” and his “Head of a Young Girl “. We have magnificent Rembrandts in London ; but we have nothing quite on the same plane of interest or mastery as the ” School of Anatomy “. Holland has not always retained her artists’ best, but in the case of Rembrandt and Hals, Jan Steen and Vermeer, she has made few mistakes. Rembrandt’s ” School of Anatomy,” his “Night Watch,” and his portrait of Elizabeth Bas are all in Holland. In the Mauritshuis are many permanent Rembrandts, and there are also usually two or three on loan” in bruikleen “together with other interesting works, many of them the property of a former director, Dr. Bredius. In fact, the “in bruikleen,” pictures are always to be looked for with avidity in Dutch galleries.
None the less, and supreme as I think the “School of Anatomy,” my own pleasure at the Mauritshuis is greater as I stand before Vermeer’s ” Head of a Young Girl,” which is the first picture reproduced in this book (opposite page 2), and the same painter’s ” View of Delft ” (reproduced opposite page 58). This photograph can convey but little suggestion of its beauty. In the case of the picture opposite page 2 there is only a loss of colour : a great part of its beauty is retained ; but the ” View of Delft ” must be seen in the original before one can speak of it at all. Its appeal is more intimate than any other old Dutch landscape that I know. I say old, because modern Dutch painters have a few scenes which soothe one hardly lesstwo or three of Matthew Maris’s, and Mauve’s again and again. But before Maris and Mauve came the Barbizon influence ; whereas Vermeer had no predecessors, he had to find his delicate path for himself. To explain the charm of the ” View of Delft” is beyond my power; but there it is. Before Rembrandt one stands awed, in the presence of an ancient giant before Vermeer one rejoices, as in the presence of a friend and contemporary.
The “Head of a Young Girl,” from the same brush, which was left to the nation as recently as 1903, is the most beautiful thing in Holland. It is, however, in no sense Dutch : the girl is not Dutch, the painting is Dutch only because it is the work of a Dutchman. No other Dutch painter could compass such liquid clarity, such cool surfaces. Indeed, none of the others seem to have tried : a different ideal was theirs. Apart, however, from the question of technique, the picture has to me human interest beyond description. There is a winning charm in this simple face that no words of mine can express. All that is hard in the Dutch nature dissolves beneath her smile. She symbolises the fairest and sweetest things in the Eleven Provinces. She makes Holland sacred ground.
Vermeer, although always a superb craftsman, was not always inspired. In the next room to the ” View of Delft” and the girl’s head is his ” New Testament Allegory,” a picture which I think I dislike more than any other, so false seems to me its sentiment and so unattractive its character. Yet the sheer painting of it is little short of miraculous.
Among other Dutch pictures in the Mauritshuis which I should Iike to mention for their particular charm are Gerard Dou’s ” Young Housekeeper,” of which I speak in the chapter on Leyden’s painters ; Ostade’s ” Proposal,” one of the pleasantest pictures which he ever signed ; Ruisdael’s “View of Haarlem” and Terburg’s portraits. I single these out. But when I think of the marvels of painting that remain, of which I have said not a word, I am only too conscious of the uselessness of such a list. Were this a guide-book I should say more, mentioning also the work of the other schools, not Dutch, notably a head of Jane Seymour by Holbein, a Velasquez, and so forth. But I must not.
After the Mauritshuis, the Municipal Museum, which also overlooks the Vyver’s placid surface, is a dull place except for the antiquary. In its old views of the city, which are among its most interesting possessions, the evolution of the neighbouring Doelen hotel may be studied by the curiousfrom its earliest days, when it was a shooting gallery, to its present state of spaciousness and repute, basking in its prosperity and cherishing the proud know-ledge that Peter the Great has slept under its hospitable roof, and that it was there that the Russian delegate re-sided when, in 1900, the Czar convoked at The Hague the Peace Conference which he was the first to break.
In one room of the Municipal Museum are the palette and easel of Johannes Bosboom, Holland’s great painter of churches. No collection of modern Dutch art is complete without a sombre study of Gothic arches by this great artist. All his work is good, but I saw nothing better than the water-colour drawing in the Boymans Museum at Rotterdam,
In this museum there were once a number of modern paintings, but these have now been housed in a gallery of their own some distance away, in the same building as the remarkable panorama of Scheveningen by H. W. Mesdag. For the sense of bleakness, sombre weather and space there is nothing with which to compare this panorama. As you stand in the middle of the rotunda you shiver and shudder and feel instinctively for the Mothersill. The pictures are less cheerless, but modern Dutch art is rarely if ever gay. The hero of the collection is, I think, J. H. Weissenbruch, but he would be better served if his master, Daubigny, was not represented there too, for the derivation is too obvious. There are also some fine James Maris’s, two Matthew Maris’s, one unfinished, and all the regular men. Bosboom is. as ever, noticeably good.
After seeing these pictures, so many of which were painted under the Barbizon influence, and the Mesdag panorama and the Mesdag room, one should go on to the Mesdag Museum. This is the house of the late Hendriks Willem Mesdag, the artist and banker, which, with all its Barbizon treasures, he made over with noble generosity to the nation in his lifetime. Mesdag, who was one of the first of Dutch marine painters, had been acquiring pictures for many years, and his collection, by representing in every example the taste of a single connoisseur, has thus the additional interest of unity. Mesdag’s own paintings are mostly of the seaa grey sea with a few fishing boats, very true, very quiet and simple. How many times he and James Maris painted Scheveningen’s shore probably no one could compute.
In the description of the Ryks collection at Amsterdam I shall say something about the pleasure of choosing one’s own particular picture from a gallery. It was amusing to indulge the same humour in the Mesdag Museum : perhaps even more so than at the Ryks, for one is certain that by no means could Vermeer’s little picture of “The Reader,” the woman in the blue jacketfor example, be abstracted from those well-guarded walls, whereas it is just conceivable that one could select from these crowded little Mesdag rooms something that might not be missed. I hesitated long between a delicate Matthew Maris, the very essence of quietude, in which a girl stands by a stove, cooking ; Delacroix’s wonderful study of dead horses in the desert ; a perfect Diaz, an old woman in a red shawl by a pool in a wood, with its miracle of lighting ; a tender little Daumier, that rare master ; a Segantini drenched in sincerity and pity ; and a bridge at evening by Jules Dupré.
All these are small and could be slipped under the overcoat with the greatest ease!
Having made up my mind I returned to each and lost all my decision. I decided again, and again un-certainty conquered. And then I made a final examination, and chose No. 64a totally new choicea little lovely Corot, depicting a stream, two women, much essential greenness, and that liquid light of which Corot had the secret.
I give opposite page 48 a reproduction of the Matthew Maris, partly for its own sake and partly to illustrate a certain continuity in Dutch art and the difference between old and new. Something very modern has entered the Dutch kitchen, you will agree.
For the rest, there are other Corots, among them one of his black night pieces ; a little village scene by Troyon; some apples by Courbet, in the grandest manner surely in which apples ever were painted ; a Monticelli ; a scene of hills by Georges Michel which makes one wish he had painted the Sussex Downs ; a beautiful chalk drawing by Millet ; some vast silent Daubignys ; a few Mauves ; a very interesting early James Maris in the manner of Peter de Hooch, and a superb later James Mariswet sand and a windy sky.
The flower of the French romantic school is represented here, brought together by a collector with a sure eye. No visitor to The Hague who cares anything for painting should miss it ; and indeed no visitor who cares nothing for painting should miss it, for it may lure him to wiser ways.
The Binnenhof is a mass of medieval and later buildings extending along the south side of the Vyver, which was indeed once a part of its moat. The most attractive view of it is from the north side of the Vyver, with the long broken line of roof and gable and turret reflected in the water. The nucleus of the Binnenhof was the castle or palace of William II., Count of Holland in the thirteenth centuryalso Emperor of Germany and father of Florence V., who built the great hall of the knights (into which, however, one may penetrate only on Thursdays), and whose tomb we shall see in Alkmaar church. The Stadtholders made the Binnenhof their headquarters ; but the present Royal Palace is half a mile northwest of it. Other buildings have been added from time to time, and the trams are now allowed to rush through with their bells jangling the while. The desecration is not so glaring as at Utrecht, but it seems thoroughly wrongas though we were to permit a line to traverse Dean’s Yard at Westminster. A more appropriate sanction is that extended to one or two dealers in old books and prints who have their stalls in the Binnenhof ‘s cloisters.
It was in the Binnenhof that the scaffold stood on which John van Barneveldt was beheaded in 1619, the almost inevitable result of his long period of differences with the Stadtholder Maurice, son of William the Silent. His arrest, as we have seen, followed the Synod of Dort, Grotius being also removed by force. Barneveldt`s imprisonment, trial and execution resemble Spanish methods of injustice more closely than one likes to think. I quote Davies’ fine ac-count of the old statesman’s last moments “Leaning on his staff, and with his servant on the other side to support his steps, grown feeble with age, Barneveldt walked composedly to the place of execution, prepared before the great saloon of the court-house. If, as it is not improbable, at the approach of death in the midst of life and health, when the intellect is in full vigour, and every nerve, sense and fibre is strung to the highest pitch of tension, a foretaste of that which is to come is sometimes given to man, and his over-wrought mind is enabled to grasp at one single effort the events of his whole past lifeif, at this moment and on this spot, where Barneveldt was now to suffer a felon’s death,where he had first held out his fostering hand to the infant republic, and infused into it strength and vigour to conquer the giant of Europe,where he had been humbly sued for peace by the oppressor of his country, where the ambassadors of the most powerful sovereigns had vied with each other in soliciting his favour and support,where the wise, the eloquent, and the learned, had bowed in deference to his master-spirit ;if, at this moment, the memory of all his long and glorious career on earth flashed upon his mind in fearful contrast to the present reality, with how deep feeling must he have uttered the exclamation as he ascended the scaffold, ‘Oh God ! what then is man ?’
“Here he was compelled to suffer the last petty indignity that man could heap upon him. Aged and infirm as he was, neither stool nor cushion had been provided to mitigate the sense of bodily weakness as he performed the last duties of mortal life ; and kneeling down on the bare boards, he was supported by his servant, while the minister, John Lamotius, delivered a prayer. When prepared for the block, he turned to the spectators and said, with a loud and firm voice, ‘ My friends, believe not that I am a traitor. I have lived a good patriot, and such I die.’ He then, with his own hands, drew his cap over his eyes, and bidding the executioner ‘be quick,’ bowed his venerable head to the stroke.
“The populace, from various feelings, some inspired by hatred, some by affection, dipped their handkerchiefs in his blood, or carried away morsels of the blood-stained wood and sand ; a few were even found to sell these as relics. The body and head were laid in a coffin and buried decently, but with little ceremony, at the court church of the Hague.
“The States of Holland rendered to his memory that justice which he had been denied while living, by the words in which they recorded his death. After stating the time and manner of it, and his long period of service to his country, the resolution concludes, ‘ a man of great activity, diligence, memory, and conduct ; yea, remarkable in every respect. Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall ; and may God be merciful to his soul.”
A very beautiful story is told of Barneveldt’s widow. Her son plotting to avenge his father and crush the Stadtholder was discovered and imprisoned. His mother visited Maurice to ask his pardon. ” Why,” said he, “how is thisyou value your son more than your husband ! You did not ask pardon for him.” “No,” said Barneveldt’s widow ; “I did not ask pardon for my husband, because he was innocent ; I ask pardon for my son, because he is guilty.”
Prince Maurice never recovered from the errorto put for the moment no worse epithet to itof the death of Barneveldt. He had killed his best counsellor ; thence-forward his power diminished ; and with every rebuff he who had abandoned his first adviser complained that God had abandoned him. Davies sums up the case thus : “The escutcheon of Maurice is bright with the record of many a deed of glory ; the fabric of his country’s greatness raised by his father, strengthened and beautified by him-self; her armies created the masters of military science to the civilized world ; her States the centre and mainspring of its negotiations ; her proud foe reduced to sue humbly at her feet. But there is one dark, deep stain on which the eye of posterity, unheeding the surrounding radiance, is constantly fixed : it is the blood of Barneveldt.”
The Binnenhof leads to the Buitenhof, a large open space, the old gateway to which is the Gevangenpoort prisonscene of another shameful deed in the history of Holland, the death of John and Cornelius de Witt. The massacre occurred two hundred and thirty-three years ago in 1672. Cornelius de Witt was wrongfully accused of an attempt to procure the assassination of the Stadtholder, William III. To him, in his cell in the Gevangenpoort, game, on 22nd August, John de Witt, late Grand Pensionary, brought hither by a bogus message.
I quote from Davies, who elsewhere makes it clear that (as Dumas says) William III. was privy to the crime : ” His friends, fearful of some treachery, besought him to pause and inquire into the truth of the summons before he obeyed it ; and his only daughter threw herself at his feet, and implored him with floods of tears not to risk unnecessarily a life so precious. But his anxiety for his brother, with whom he had ever lived on terms of the tenderest affection, proved stronger than their remonstrances ; and setting out on foot, attended by his servant and two secretaries, he hastened to the prison. On seeing him, Cornelius de Witt exclaimed in astonishment, ‘ My brother, what do you here ?’ ` Did you not then send for me ?’ he asked ; and receiving an answer in the negative, ‘ Then,’ rejoined he, ‘ we are lost’.
“During this time one of the judges sent for Tichelaar, and suggested to him that he should incite the people not to suffer a villain who had intended to murder the Prince to go unpunished. True to his instructions, the miscreant spread among the crowd collected before the prison doors the report, that the torture inflicted on Cornelius de Witt was a mere pretence, and that he had only escaped the death he deserved because the judges favoured his crime. Then, entering the gaol, he presented himself at the window, and exclaimed to the crowd below, `The dog and his brother are going out of prison ! Now is your time ; revenge yourselves on these two knaves, and then on thirty more, their accomplices.
“The populace received his address with shouts and cries of ‘To arms, to arms ! Treason, treason !’ and pressed in a still denser crowd towards the prison door. The States of Holland, immediately on information of the tumult, sent three troops of cavalry, in garrison at the Hague, for the protection of the gaol, and called out to arms six companies of burgher guards. But in the latter they only added fresh hosts to the enemies of the unfortunate captives. One company in especial, called the `Company of the Blue Flag,’ was animated with a spirit of deadly vengeance against them ; its leader, Verhoef, having that morning loaded his musket with a determination either to kill the De Witte or perish in the attempt. They pressed forward towards the prison, but were driven back by the determined appear. ante of the cavalry, commanded by the Count de Tilly.
“So long as these troops remained, it was evident that the fell purpose of the rioters was impracticable. Accordingly, a report was raised that a band of peasants and sailors was coming to plunder The Hague ; and two captains of the burgher guards took occasion from thence to demand of the Council of State, that the soldiers should be drawn off from their station, in order to protect the houses from pillage. First a verbal order, and on Tilly’s refusing obedience to such, a written one, was sent, commanding him to divide his troops into four detachments, and post them upon the bridges leading into the town.
‘ I shall obey,’ said he, as he perused the mandate ; ‘ but it is the death-warrant of the brothers.’
“His anticipations were too soon realized. No sooner had he departed than the rioters were supplied by some of those mysterious agents who were actively employed throughout the whole of these transactions, with wine, brandy, and other incitements to inflame their already maddening fury. Led on by Verhoef and one Van Bank-hem, a sheriff of The Hague, they assailed the prison door with axes and sledge-hammers, threatening to kill all the inmates if it were not instantly opened. Terrified, or corrupted, the gaoler obeyed their behests. On gaining admittance they rushed to an upper room, where they found their victims, who had throughout the whole of the tumult maintained the greatest composure. The bailiff, reduced to a state of extreme debility by the torture, was reclining on his bed ; his brother was seated near him, reading the Bible. They forced them to rise and follow them ‘ to the place,’ as they said, ‘ where criminals were executed ‘.
” Having taken a tender leave of each other, they began to descend the stairs, Cornelius de Witt leaning on his brother for support. They had not advanced above two or three paces when a heavy blow on the head from be-hind precipitated the former to the bottom. He was then dragged a short distance towards the street, trampled under foot, and beaten to death. Meanwhile, John de Witt, after receiving a severe wound on the head with the butt-end of a musket, was brought by Verhoef, bleeding and bare-headed, before the furious multitude. One Van Soenen immediately thrust a pike into his face, while another of the miscreants shot him in the neck, exclaiming as he fell, ‘ There goes down the Perpetual Edict’. Raising himself on his knees, the sufferer lifted up his hands and eyes to heaven in deep and earnest prayer. At that moment, one Verhagen struck him with his musket. Hundreds followed his example, and the cruel massacre was completed.
” Barbarities too dreadful for utterance or contemplation, all that phrenzied passion or brutal ferocity could suggest, were perpetrated on the bodies of these noble and virtuous citizens ; nor was it till night put an end to the butchery, that their friends were permitted to convey their mangled remains to a secret and obscure tomb.”
In the Nieuwe Kerk at The Hague the tomb of the De Witts may be seen and honoured.
The Gevangenpoort is well worth a visit. One passes tortuously from cell to cellmost of them associated with some famous breaker of the laws of God or man, principally of man. Here you may see a stone hollowed by the drops of water that plashed from the prisoner’s head, on which they were timed to fall at intervals of a few secondsa form of torture imported, I believe, from China, and after some hours ending inevitably in madness and death. Beside such a refinement the rack is a mere trifle and the Gevangenpoort’s branding irons and thumb screws become only toys. A block, retaining the cuts made by the axe after it had crashed through the offending neck, is also shown; and the names of prisoners written in their blood on the walls may be traced. The building is a monument in stone of what man can do to man in the name of justice.
I referred just now to the Nieuwe Kerk, the resting-place of the De Witts. There lies also their contemporary, Spinoza, whose home at Rynsburg we shall pass on our way to Katwyk from Leyden. His house at The Hague still stands-near his statue. The Groote Kerk is older ; but neither church is particularly interesting. From the Groote Kerk’s tower one may, however, see a vast deal of country around The Haguea landscape containing much greeneryand in the west the architectural monsters of Scheveningen only too visible. We shall reach Scheveningen in the next chapter, but while at The Hague it is amusing to visit the fish market in order to have sight of the good women of that town clustered about the stalls in their peculiar costume. They are Scheveningen’s best. The adjoining stadhuis is a very interesting example of Dutch architecture.
The Hague has excellent shops, and one streetthe Lange Pootendensely crowded in the evening, and particularly on Sunday evening. There are in the large cities a few theatres and music halls and many picture palaces, and in the smaller there are picture palaces too, and concerts in the summer ; but for the most part the streets and the cafés are the great attraction. Each town has one street above all others which is frequented in this way. At Amsterdam it is Kalverstraat.
Dutch shops are not very interesting, and the bookshops in particular are a disappointment. This is because it is not a reading people. The newspapers are sound and practical before all things : business before pleasure is their motto ; and native literature is not fostered. Publishers who bring out new Dutch books usually do so on the old subscription plan. But the book-shops testify to the popularity of translations from other nations and also of foreign books in the original. The latest French and German fiction is always obtainable.
The Hague is very proud of the Boschthe great wood to the east of the city, with a few deer and many tall and unpollarded trees, where one may walk and ride or drive very pleasantly.
The Huis ten Bosch, or House in the Wood, which all good travellers must explore, is at the extreme eastern end of the Bosch, with pleasure grounds of its own, including a lake where royal skating parties are held. This very charming royal residence, now only occasionally occupied, is well worth seeing for its Chinese and Japanese decorations aloneapart from historical associations and mural paintings. For mural paintings, unless they are very quiet, I must confess to caring nothing, nor does a bed on which a temporal prince breathed his last, or his first, move me to any degree of interest ; but on the walls of one room of the House in the Wood is some of the most charming Chinese embroidery I ever saw, while another is decorated in blue and white of exquisite delicacy. With these gracious schemes of upholstery I shall always associate the Huis ten Bosch.
Let me close this rambling account of The Hague with a passage from James Howell, in one of his conspicuously elaborate Familiar Letters, written in 1622, describing some of the odd things to be seen at that day in or about the Dutch city : ” We went afterwards to the Hague, where there are hard by, though in several places, two wonderful things to be seen, the one of Art, the other of Nature ; that of Art is a Waggon or Ship, or a monster mixt of both like the Hippocentaure who was half man and half horse ; this Engin hath wheels and sails that will hold above twenty people, and goes with the wind, being drawn or mov’d by nothing else, and will run, the wind being good, and the sails hois’d up, above fifteen miles an hour upon the even hard sands : they say this Invention was found out to entertain Spinola when he came thither to treat of the last Truce.” Upon this wonder, which I did not see, -civilisation has now improved, the wind being but a captious and untrustworthy servant compared with petrol or steam. None the less there is still a very rapid wheeled ship at Zandvoort.
But the record of Howell’s other wonder is visible still. He continues : ” That wonder of Nature is a Church monument, where an Earl and a Lady are engravers with 365 children about them, which were all delivered at one birth ; they were half male, half female ; the two Basons in which they were Christened hang still in the Church, and the Bishop’s Name who did it ; and the story of this Miracle, with the year and the day of the month mentioned, which is not yet 200 years ago ; and the story is this : That the Countess walking about her door after dinner, there came a Begger-woman with two Children upon her back to beg alms, the Countess asking whether those children were her own, she answer’d, she had them both at one birth, and by one Father, who was her husband. The Countess would not only not give her any alms, but reviled her bitterly, saying, it was impossible for one man to get two children at once. The Begger-woman being thus provok’d with ill words, and without alms, fell to imprecations, that it should please God to show His judgment upon her, and that she might bear at one birth as many children as there be days in the year, which she did before the same year’s end, having never born child before.”
The legend was naturally popular in a land of large families, and it was certainly credited without any reservation for many years. In England the rabbit-breeding woman of Dorking had her adherents too. What the beggar really wished for the Dutch lady was as many children at one birth as there were days in the year in which the conversation occurrednamely three, for the encounter was on January 3rd. Or so I have somewhere read. But it is more amusing to believe in the greater number, especially as a Dutch author has put it on record that he saw the children with his own eyes. They were of the size of shrimps, and were baptised either singly or collectively by Guy, Bishop of Utrecht. All the boys were named John and all the girls Elizabeth. They died the same day.
Thomas Coryate of the Crudities, who also tells the tale, believed it implicitly. “This strange history,” he says, “will seem incredible (I suppose) to all readers. But it is so absolutely and undoubtedly true as nothing in the world more.”
And here, hand in hand with Veritas, we leave The Hague,