IN going from Rotterdam to Delft I saw for the first time the open country of Holland. It is all one plain, a succession of green and flowery meadows, crossed by long files of willows, and sprinkled with groups of poplars and elders. Here and there are seen tops of steeples, whirling wings of windmills, scattered herds of large black and white cows, with their herdsmen, and immense tracts that are completely solitary. There is nothing to strike the eye, nothing salient, nothing sloping. Every now and t hen, in the distance, the sail of a ship glides by, and being in a canal invisible from that distance, it seems to be gliding over the grass of the meadows, appearing and disappearing behind the trees. The pale light gives to the country a certain soft and melancholy aspect. A slight mist makes every object appear afar off. There is a kind of visible silence, a peace of line and color, a repose of all things, looking on which the eye grows dreary and the imagination is lulled.
At a short distance from Rotterdam is the town of Schiedam, surrounded by very lofty windmills that give it the look of a fortified place crowned with towers; and in the distance appears the village of Vlaardingen, which is one of the principal stations for the great herring-fishery.
From Schiedam to Delft I gave myself up to the study of windmills. The Dutch mills do not at all resemble those decrepit objects which I had seen the year before in La Mancha, that stretched their meagre arms as if imploring succour from earth and heaven. The Dutch mills are large, strong, and full of life ; and Don Quixote would have thought twice before attacking them. Some are made of stone, round and octagonal, like medieval towers ; others are of wood, and present the form of a box stuck upon the apex of a pyramid. The greater part have thatched roofs, a wooden gallery running round the middle, windows with white curtains, green doors, and the use they serve inscribed upon the door. Besides the absorption of water, they do a little of everything : they grind flour, wash rags, crush lime, break stone, saw wood, crush olives, pulverise tobacco. A mill is equivalent to a farm ; and to build it, provide it with grain, colza, flour, oil, to keep it going, and send its product to market, requires a considerable fortune. Consequently, in many places, the wealth of proprietors is measured by the number of their mills ; hereditary property is calculated by mills. They say of a girl that she has one or two windmills for a dowry, or two steam-mills, which is better; and speculators, who are everywhere, marry the girl in ‘order to get her mills. This myriad of winged towers scattered over the country give it a peculiar aspect and animate its solitude. At night, among the trees, they have a fantastic appearance, like fabulous birds watching the heavens; by day, in the distance they look like enormous frames for fire-works; they whirl round, stop, go fast, go slowly, breaking the silence with their low, monotonous tic-tac; and when they catch fire, which they do sometimes, especially the grain-mills, they make a wheel of flame, a tempest of burning meal, a whirl of fiery clouds, which is quite infernal in its tumultuous splendor.
In the carriage, although there were many passengers, no one spoke. All were men of mature years, with grave faces, who looked at one another in silence, and emitted clouds of smoke at regular intervals, as if they were measuring time by their cigars. When we reached Delft I bowed as I got out, and one or two responded by a slight motion of the lips.
“Delft,” says Messer Ludovico Guicciardini, “is so called from the ditch, or water-canal, which leads to it from the Meusea ditch being vulgarly called delft. It is two leagues distant from Rotterdam, and is truly great and beautiful in every part, with large and handsome edifices, and streets wide and cheerful. It was founded by Godfrey, surnamed the Gobbo (hunchback), Duke of Lotharingia who for nearly four years occupied the country of Holland.”
Delft is the city of misfortune. Towards the middle of the sixteenth century it was almost entirely destroyed by fire; in 1654 the blowing-up of a powder-magazine ruined more than two hundred houses; and in 1742 another catastrophe of the same kind occurred. William the Silent was assassinated at Delft in 1584. And here decayed and almost disappeared an industry that was its riches and its glorythe manufacture of majolica, in which the Dutch artisans had begun by imitating the forms and designs of Chinese and Japanese porcelain, and had succeeded in producing admirable work, uniting the Asiatic with the Dutch character, and extending it all over northern Europe; and even now these objects are sought for eagerly by amateurs of the art, and almost as highly prized as the finest Italian work.
Delft now is no longer a manufacturing or commercial city ; its twenty-two thousand inhabitants live in profound peace. But it is one of the prettiest and most Dutch of the cities of Holland. The streets are broad, crossed by canals shaded by two rows of trees, flanked by houses, red, crimson, and rose color, picked out with white, which look glad to be so clean ; and at every crossing meet and join two or three bridges of stone or wood, with white railings; here and there a large boat lying motionless as if enjoying its idleness ; very few people, closed doors, and no noise of any kind.
I directed my steps towards the new church, looking about me for the famous storks’ nests; but I could not see any. The tradition of the storks of Delft is, how-ever, still alive, and no traveller writes about the city without remembering them. Guicciardini calls it ” a memorable thing, and such as there is no similar record of, antique or modern.” The fact occurred at the time of the great fire which ruined almost all the city. There were in Delft innumerable storks’ nests. It must be understood that the stork is the favorite bird of Holland ; the bird of good fortune, like the swallow; welcome to all, because it makes war upon toads and frogs; that the peasants plant poles with round pieces of wood on top to attract them to make their nests ; and that in some towns they may be seen walking in the streets. At Delft then they were in great numbers. When the fire broke out,. which was on the 3rd of May, the young storks were fledged, but could not yet fly. Seeing the fire approach, the parent storks attempted to carry their young ones out of danger, but they were too heavy ; and after having tried all sorts of desperate efforts, the poor birds were forced to give it up. They might have saved themselves and have abandoned the little ones to their fate, as human creatures often do under similar circumstances. But they stayed instead upon their nests, gathered their little ones about them, covered them with their wings as if to retard as long as possible the fatal moment, and so awaited death, and so remained in that loving and noble attitude. And who shall say if, in the horrible dismay and flight from the flames, that example of self-sacrifice, that voluntary maternal martyrdom, may not have given strength and courage to some weak soul who was about to abandon those who had need of him !
In the great square where the new church stands I saw again those shops which had attracted my attention at Rotterdam, where every object that can possibly be attached one to the other is suspended in long garlands within and without, sometimes completely hiding the back of the shop. The signs are the same as in Rotterdama bottle of beer hung on a nail, a paint-brush, a box, a broom, and the usual carved head with wide-open mouth.
The new church, founded in the latter part of the fourteenth century, is for Holland what Westminster Abbey is for England. It is a large edifice, dark without and naked within ; a prison rather than the House of God.
My eyes were at once attracted by the splendid mausoleum of William the Silent; but the custodian stopped me at the simple tomb of Ugo Grotius, Prodigium Europae, as he is called in his epitaph, the great jurisconsult of the seventeenth century; that Grotius who at nine years of age wrote Latin verses, at eleven composed Greek odes, at fourteen philosophic theses, and three years later accompanied the illustrious Barneveldt in his embassy to Paris, where Henry IV., presenting him to the Court, said : “Behold the miracle of Holland ! ” that Grotius who at eighteen was distinguished as poet, theologian, commentator, and astronomer, and had written a prose epic on the city of Ostend, which Casaubon translated into Greek, and Malesherbe into French verse; that Grotius who, in his twenty-fourth year, exercised the office of Advocate-General of Holland and Zeeland, and wrote a celebrated treatise on the “Liberty of the Seas”; who at thirty was Councillor of the city of Rotterdam; then partisan of Barneveldt, persecuted, condemned to perpetual imprisonment, and shut up in the Castle of Loevesteen, where he wrote the treatise of the ” Right of Peace and of War,” which was for a long time the codex of all the publicists of Europe ; then saved miraculously by his wife, who caused herself’ to be introduced into his prison in a box believed to contain books, which box went out again with the prisoner in it, while the wife remained a prisoner in his stead ; then the guest of Louis XIII., and sent ambassador from France to Christina of Sweden ; and finally returning triumphantly to his on country, where he died, at Rostock, full of years and honors.
The mausoleum of William the Silent is in the middle of the church. It is a sort of small temple in black and white marble, loaded with ornament, and sustained by columns, between which are four statues representing Liberty, Prudence, Justice, and Religion. Upon the sarcophagus lies the figure of the prince, in white marble, and at his feet the effigy of the little dog that saved his life at the siege of Malines, waking him by its barkings one night in his tent, when two Spaniards were creeping upon him to assassinate him. At the feet of this figure rises a fine bronze statue of Victory, with outspread wings, and supported only upon the toes of the left foot; and opposite, on the other side of the little temple, another bronze statue, representing William, seated, dressed in his armour, with uncovered head, the helmet lying at his feet. A Latin inscription sets forth that the monument was raised by the States of Holland, ” to the eternal memory of that William of Nassau, whom Philip II., scourge of Europe, feared, and never overcame or conquered, but killed by atrocious guile.” His sons are sepulchred beside him, and in the crypt below lie all the princes of his dynasty.
In the presence of this monument the lightest and most frivolous mind feels itself constrained to stop and ponder, recalling the tremendous struggle whose hero and conqueror lies below.
On one side is Philip II., on the other William of Orange. Philip, shut up in the gloomy solitudes of the Escorial, lord of an empire that embraced all Spain, the north and south of Italy, Belgium, and Holland; in Africa, Oran, Tunis, the Cape de Verde and Canary islands; in Asia, the Phillipine islands; in America, the Antilles, Mexico, Peru ; married to the Queen of England ; nephew of the Emperor of Germany, who obeyed him almost as a vassal; sovereign, it may be said, of Europe, since his nearer neighbors are all weakened by political and religious dissensions; having under his hand the best soldiers in Europe, the greatest captains of the time, the gold of America, the industry of Flanders, the science of Italy, an army of informers chosen from all nations, fanatically devoted to himself, the blind instruments of his will ; the most astute, the most mysterious of the princes of his time; having on his side everything that enchains, corrupts, terrifies, and moves the world : arms, riches, glory, genius, religion. Before this formidable being, around whom all creatures prostrate themselves, rises William of Orange.
This man, without a kingdom and without an army, is more powerful than he. Like Philip, he has been a disciple of Charles V. and has learned the art of founding thrones, and the art of overturning them as well. Like Philip, he is astute and impenetrable ; but he sees more clearly with the eyes of his intellect, into the future. He possesses, as does his enemy, the faculty of reading the souls of men; but he has also what his enemy has not, the power of gaining their hearts. He has a good cause to sustain ; but he knows how to make use of all the arts by which bad ones are supported. Philip; who spies out and reads all men, is himself spied out and read by him. The designs of the great king are discovered and circumvented before they are put in action; mysterious hands search his caskets and his pockets, and mysterious eyes read his secret papers; William in Holland reads the thoughts of Philip in the Escorial; foresees, unravels, overturns all his plots; mines the earth under his feet, provokes, and flies before him, but returns again perpetually, like a phantom that he sees but cannot clutch, or clutching can-not destroy. And when at last he dies, victory remains with him dead, and defeat with his living enemy. Holland is without her head, but the Spanish monarchy is shaken to its fall, and never will recover.
In this prodigious struggle, in which the figure of the king becomes smaller and smaller until it finally disappears, that of the Prince of Orange grows and grows, until it becomes the most glorious figure of the century. On that day when, hostage with the King of France, he discovered the design of Philip to establish the Inquisition in the Low Countries, he consecrated himself to the defence of the liberties of his country, and never in his life did he hesitate for one moment in the path he had chosen. The advantages of noble birth, a royal fortune, the peaceful and splendid existence that he loved by nature and habit, he sacrificed all for his country ; pro-scribed and reduced to poverty, he constantly rejected the offers of pardon and favor that were made to him, under a thousand forms and a thousand ways, by the enemy who hated him and feared him. Surrounded by assassins, the mark for the most atrocious calumnies, accused even of cowardice before the enemy, and of the murder of the wife whom he adored ; looked upon sometimes with suspicion by the very people whom he was defending : he bore all with calmness, and in silence. He went about his chosen work, confronting infinite peril with trafiquil courage. Never did he flatter or bend before the people, never was he blinded by their passion; he was their guide, their chief, their leader always ; he was the mind, the conscience, and the arm of the revolution: the beacon-fire whence irradiated the heat by which his country lived. Great in audacity as in prudence, he preserved his integrity in the time of perjury and perfidy; calm in the midst of violence, he kept his hands immaculate when all the courts in Europe were stained with blood. With an army gathered up here and there, with allies -weak and doubtful, harassed by the internal discords of Lutheran and Calvinist, noble and burgher, magistrates and people, with no great captains under him, he had to struggle against the municipal spirit of the provinces that scoffed at his authority and slipped from under his hand, and he triumphed in a cause that seemed above human control ; he tired out the Duke of Alva, he tired out Requescens, lie tired out Don John of Austria, he tired out Alexander Farnese ; he brought to nought the plots of foreign princes who wished to succour his country in order to subjugate it ; he conquered sympathy and aid from every part of Europe; and completing one of the most splendid revolutions in history, founded a free state in spite of an empire that was the terror of the universe.
This man, so tremendous and grand a figure before the world, was also a loving husband and father, a kind friend and affable companion, fond of gaiety and festivals, a magnificent and polished host. He was accomplished; knowing, besides the Flemish tongue, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Latin; and could discourse learnedly of most things. Although surnamed William the Silent (more for having kept so long the secret discovered at the French Court than because he was habitually taciturn) he was one of the most, eloquent men of his day. He was simple in his manners, plain in his dress ; loved, and was beloved by, the people.
He frequently walked in the streets of the city alone, and with his head uncovered ; conversing with the workmen and the fishermen, who offered him drink in their own cups; he listened to their grievances, settled their differences, and entered their houses to reestablish peace in families, and they called him Father William. He was, indeed, the father, rather than the son of his country. The sentiments of admiration and gratitude that still live for him in the hearts of the Hollanders,-have all the intimate and tender character of filial affection ; his venerated name may still be heard in their mouths; his greatness, despoiled of every veil or ornament, remains en: ire, clear, firm, and solid, like his work.
After visiting the tomb, I went to see the place where the Prince of Orange was assassinated. But after having related how he lived, it is necessary to tell how he died.
In the year 1580, Philip II. had published an edict by which he promised a reward of twenty-five thousand gold crowns, and a title of nobility, to anyone who should kill the Prince of Orange. This infamous edict, which stimulated at once both cupidity and fanaticism, had caused assassins to swarm on every side about the prince, concealing themselves under false names, and hiding their arms and their purpose, while they waited their opportunity.
A young Biscayan named Jauregny, a fervent Catholic, to whom a Dominican monk had promised the glory of martyrdom, was the first to make the attempt. Ile pre-pared himself with fasting and prayer, heard mass, took the Communion, covered himself with sacred relics, penetrated into the palace of William of Orange, and, approaching the prince under pretext of presenting a petition, fired a pistol-shot at his head. The ball passed through the jaw, but the wound was not mortal, and the prince recovered.
The assassin was struck down in the act, with blows of swords and halberds; and afterwards quartered in the public square, and his limbs were put up over one of the gates of Antwerp, where they remained until the Duke of Parma took thatcity, when the Jesuits gathered them together and presented them as relics to the veneration of the faithful.
A little while afterwards another conspiracy was dis-covered against the life of the prince. A French gentleman, an Italian, and a Walloon, who had been following him for some time with the intention of killing him, were discovered and arrested. One of them stabbed himself and died in prison, the second was strangled in France, and the third succeeded in escaping, after having confessed that all three were acting under the orders of the Duke of Parma.
In the meantime Philip’s agents were going about the country instigating persons to become assassins with promises of large reward, and priests and monks were -encouraging fanatics with the promise of aid and recompense in heaven. Other attempts were made. A Spaniard, discovered and arrested, was quartered at Antwerp ; a rich merchant, by name Hans Jansen, was executed at Flushing. Several persons had offered their arms to Alexander Farnese, arid had received money and encouragement from him. The Prince of Orange, who knew everything, nourished a vague presentiment of his approaching end, spoke of it to those in his intimacy, and refused to take any measures to preserve his own life, saying to those who advised him to do so: “It is useless. God knows the number of my years. He will dispose of me according to His will. If there be a wretch who fears not death, my life is in his hands, however I may seek to guard it.”
Eight attempts to murder him were made before the successful one.
At the time when the last was consummated, in 1584, four villains, each unknown to the otheran Englishman, a Scotchman, a Frenchman, and a native of Lorrainewere at Delft, where the Prince of Orange then was, all awaiting their opportunity to assassinate him. Besides these, there had been there for some time a young man of twenty-seven years, from Franche Comté, a Catholic, hut passing for a Protestant, Guyon by name, son of Peter Guyon, who had been executed at Besançon for having embraced Calvinism. This so-called Guyon, whose real name was Balthazar Gerard, gave out that he had fled from the persecution of the Catholics; he led an austere life, and assisted at all the exercises of the Protestant faith; in a short time he was regarded as a saint. Saying that he had come to Delft to obtain the honor of being admitted into the service of the Prince of Orange, he was presented to him through the recommendation of a Protestant minister; the prince had faith in him, and appointed him to accompany M. de Schonewalle, envoy from the States of Holland to France. A little while after he returned to Delft to bring to William of Orange the news of the death of the Duke of Anjou, and presented himself at the convent of Saint Agatha where the prince and his court were then sojourning. It was the second Sunday in July. William received him in his chamber, being then in bed. They were alone. Balthazar Gerard was then tempted to kill Him; but he had no arms, and concealing his impatience, quietly answered the questions put to him. William gave him a small sum of money, told him to prepare to return to Paris, and ordered him to come back the following day for letters and pass-ports. With the money-given him by the prince, Gerard bought two pistols from a soldier (who afterwards killed himself when he knew the use to which they had been put), and the next day he again presented himself at the convent of Saint Agatha. The prince, accompanied by several ladies and gentlemen of his family, was coming downstairs to dinner on the ground-floor, and the Princess of Orange, his fourth wife, was leaning on his arm; she was that gentle and unfortunate Louisa de Coligny, who on the night of St. Bartholomew had seen the Admiral her father and the Sieur de Teligny her husband murdered before her eyes. Gerard advanced to meet the prince, stopped him, and asked him to sign his passport. William told him to come back later, and passed on into the hall. Not a shadow of suspicion had crossed his mind; but Louisa de Coligny, made cautious and suspicious by experience, was disturbed. That pale-faced man, wrapped in a long mantle, had made an unpleasant impression upon her; it seemed to her that his voice was agitated and his visage convulsed. During the dinner she spoke to William of her suspicions, and asked him who was this man, ” who had the worst countenance that she had ever seen.” The prince smiled, told her that it was Guyon, reassured her, was cheerful as usual throughout the meal, and when it was over passed quietly out to go upstairs again. Gerard was lurking under a dark archway beside the staircase, hidden by the shadow of a door. The moment the prince appeared, he came out, sprang upon him as he placed his foot upon the second step, dis-charged a pistol loaded with three balls into his chest, and took to flight. The prince staggered and fell into the arms of an attendant; everybody rushed. He said in a faint voice, ” I am wounded. My God, have mercy on me, and on my poor people ! ” He was covered with blood. His sister, Catherine of Schwartzburg, said to him, “Do you recommend your soul to Jesus Christ? ” He answered faintly, ” Yes.” It was his last word. They placed him sitting on a step of the stairs, and asked him some questions; but his senses were gone. He was carried into a room near by, and there expired.
Gerard, meanwhile, had passed through the stables, left the convent, and reached the city bastion, where he in-tended to jump down into the moat and swim over to the opposite shore, where a saddled horse was waiting for him.
But in his flight he dropped his hat and his second pistol. One of the prince’s servants and a halberdier, seeing these traces, started in pursuit. At the very moment when he was about to take the leap from the bastion they seized him. ” Infernal traitor ! ” they cried. He answered calmly, “I am not a traitor ; I am the faithful servant of my lord.” ” Of what lord ?” they demanded. ” Of my lord and master the King of Spain,” answered Gerard. Other halberdiers and pages now came up, and they dragged him into the city, striking him as they went with fists and sword-hilts. Believing from what he heard that the prince was not dead, the wretch exclaimed with gloomy tranquillity, ” Accursed be the hand that missed its stroke ! ”
This deplorable security of soul never abandoned him for a moment. Before the tribunal, under long inter-rogations, in his dungeon, loaded with irons, he maintained the same unalterable calm. He bore the torture without a groan. Between the torments, while the jailors were resting, he spoke quietly and without ostentation. Whilst on the rack, lifting now and then his bloody head, he said, “Ecce Homo.” He thanked his judges for the food that they permitted to be brought him, and wrote his confession with his own hand.
He was born at Vuillafaus, in Burgundy, had studied law under an advocate of Dole, and had there for the first time manifested a desire to kill William of Orange, striking a dagger into a door, and saying, ” Thus would I like to plant a poignard into the breast of the Prince of Orange ! ” Three years later, hearing of Philip’s edict, he went to Luxembourg with the intention of committing the murder, but was stopped by a false report of the death of William after the attempt of Jauregny. A little while after, learning that the prince was still alive, he resumed his purpose, and went to Malines to ask counsel of the Jesuits, who encouraged him in his design and promised him that, if his attempt succeeded, and he lost his life, he should have the glory and thé honors of a martyr. Then he went to Tournai, was presented to Alexander Farnese, received a confirmation of Philip’s promise, was approved and encouraged by the confidants of the Prince of Parma, and the ministers of God ; fortified himself with readings of the Bible, and with fasting and prayer, and so, seized with a divine exaltation, dreaming of Paradise and the angels, he departed for Delft, and there fulfilled ” his duty as a good Catholic and a faithful subject.”
He repeated his confession more than once before his judges; pronounced not one word of regret or repentance, boasted of his deed; called himself a new David who had slain a new Goliath; and declared that if he had not already killed the Prince of Orange, lie should be ready to do it ; his courage, his calmness, his profound conviction of having accomplished a holy mission and a glorious death, amazed his judges, who believed him to be possessed of an evil spirit; an examination was made; he himself was interrogated, but he always insisted that he had never had any relations other than with God.
The sentence was read to him on the 14th of July. ” It was a crime,” says an illustrious historian, ” against the memory of the great man whom it purposed to avenge; a sentence to strike into insensibility anyone without the superhuman fortitude of the prisoner.”
He was condemned to have his right hand encased in a case of red-hot iron ; his arms, legs, and thighs torn with hot pincers; his chest cut open, his heart torn out and thrown in his face ; the head severed from the body and stuck on a pike ; the body quartered, and each part placed over a gate of the city.
Listening to the reading of this horrid sentence, the wretched man never changed color, or gave any sign of terror, or grief, or astonishment. He only opened his doublet, laid bare his chest, and in a firm voice, fixing his eyes steadily on the face of his judges, repeated the words : ” Ecce Homo I ”
What was this man? Only a fanatic, as many believed, or a monster of wickedness, or both together, with the addition of an insatiable ambition ?
The sentence was executed on the following day. The preparations were made under the eyes of the prisoner, who looked on with indifference. The executioner’s assistant began by crushing the pistol, instrument of the crime, with blows of a hammer. At the first blow, the head of the hammer flew off and wounded another assis-tant in the ear ; the people laughed, and Gerard laughed also. When he appeared on the scaffold, his body was horrible to see. Whilst his hand crackled and smoked in the burning tube, he stood mute ; nor did he utter a cry while the red-hot pincers tore his flesh ; when the last act came, he dropped his head, murmured some incomprehensible words, and expired.
The news of the death of the Prince of Orange had spread consternation throughout the country. His body was exposed for one month on a bier, around which the people flocked, kneeling and in tears. His funeral was worthy of a king ; there came the States General of the United Provinces, the Council of State, the States of Holland, the magistrates, the ministers of religion, the princes of the house of Nassau. Twelve gentlemen carried the body; four great nobles held the cords of the pall; the prince’s horse followed, splendidly caparisoned, and led by a groom ; and there was seen, in the middle of the cortége of nobles, a youth of eighteen years, whose hands were to receive the glorious heritage of the dead, who was destined to humiliate the Spanish armies, to con-strain Spain to plead for truce and recognise the independence of the United Provinces. That youth was Maurice of Orange, the son of William, under whom a short time after his father’s death, the States of Holland conferred the dignity of Statholder, and confided to him the supreme command of the forces by land and sea.
Whilst Holland wept her loss, in all the cities subject to the King of Spain the Catholic clergy glorified the murderer and his deed; the Jesuits exalted him as a martyr; the university of Louvain published his apology; the canons of Bois-le-Duc chanted a Te Deum. Some years afterwards, the family of Gerard received from the King of Spain a title of nobility, and the confiscated lands of the Prince of Orange in Burgundy.
The house where the Prince of Orange was assassinated still exists ; it is a gloomy-looking edifice, with arched windows and a narrow door, forming part of the cloister of the ancient church of St. Agatha, and it still bears the name of Prinsenshof, although it now serves as a cavalry barrack. I asked leave of entrance from the soldier on guard ; a corporal, who knew a little French, accompanied me ; we crossed a court full of soldiers, and reached the memorable spot. I saw the staircase, the dark corner where Gerard crouched, the door of the room where William dined for the last time, and the traces of the balls on the wall, isolated in a white space, with an inscription in Dutch setting forth that here the father of his country died.
The corporal pointed out the way by which the murderer had fled. Whilst I looked about with that thoughtful curiosity that one feels under such circumstances, soldiers went up and down; they stopped to look at me, and went off whistling and singing; loud laughter rang from the courtyard; and all that youthful life and gaiety contrasted touchingly with the sad and solemn memories of the place, like the frolic of children in a room where some dear parent died.
Opposite the Prinsenshof is the oldest church in Delft, which contains the tomb of that famous Admiral Tromp, the veteran of the Dutch navy, who saw thirty-two sea-fights, scattered the English fleet under Blake at the battle of the Dunes, in 1652, and returned into port with a broom fastened to his mainmast, to indicate that he had swept the English from the seas. There is the tomb of Peter Hein, who, from a simple fisherman, rose to be Grand Admiral, and made that memorable haul of Spanish ships that carried in their sides more than eleven millions of florins. There is the tomb of Leuwenhoek, the father of the science of the ” infinitely little,” he who, as Parini says, “saw with his investigating glass the embryo man floating in the genital sea.”
The church has a tall steeple, surmounted by four small conical towers, which leans like the tower of Pisa, in con-sequence of the sinking of the ground. In a cell in this tower Gerard was confined on the night following the assassination.
At Rotterdam they had given me a letter for a citizen of Delft, requesting him to show me his house. ” He desires,” said the letter, “to penetrate the mysteries of an old Dutch house : lift for a moment, for his benefit, the curtain of the sanctuary.” I had no difficulty in finding the house, and when I saw it, I exclaimed : ” This is what I want.”
It was a small house at the end of a street opening on the fields, of one storey only, red, with a pointed façade, planted on the edge of the canal as if looking at itself in the water, with a fine spreading linden-tree before it, and a drawbridge directly in front. There were the white curtains, the green door, the flowers, the little mirrors; it was a small model of a Dutch house.
The street was deserted; before knocking at the door I stood a moment to look and muse. That house gave me a better idea of Holland than I could get from any book. It was at once the cause and the effect of the family affection, the modest desires, the independent character of the Dutch people. In my own country the real home does not exist; there is nothing but an apartment, a portion of a great barrack, in which one lives concealed, but not alone, hearing a thousand noises of strange people, who disturb our grief with echoes of their joy, or our joy with rumours of their grief. The true house and home is in Holland, the personal house, distinct from others, modest, discreet, and, precisely because it is distinct from others, inimical to mystery and intrigue; cheerful when the family that inhabits it is cheerful, and sad when they are sad. In these houses, with the canals and drawbridges before them, every modest citizen feels a little of the solitary dignity of the castellan, or the commander of a fortress, or a ship ; and sees, indeed, from his windows, as from the deck of a vessel at anchor, a uniform and boundless plain, which inspires him with the same sentiments and thoughts, grave and free, as are inspired by the sea. The trees surrounding his habitation, almost like a gar.nent of verdure, allow only a broken and discreet light to penetrate it; the bark laden with merchandise floats before his door; he hears no sound of horses’ feet, nor crack of whip, nor songs, nor shouts ; around him all the movements of life are slow and silent ; everything breathes peace and gentleness ; and the neighbouring steeple announces the hour with a flood of harmony sweet and constant as his affections and his labor.
I knocked ; the door was opened by the master of the house in person, who, having read my letter, gave me a scrutinising glance, and invited me to enter. Dutchmen, as a rule, are diffident. With us, the first comer who brings a letter of introduction is received with open arms, as if he were our most intimate friend; and very often we do nothing for him. The Hollanders, on the contrary, receive you coldly, so much so as to be sometimes rather mortifying ; but then they offer you all sorts of service, with the best will in the world, and without the least appearance of laying you under an obligation.
The inside of the house corresponded perfectly’ with the outside ; it seemed like the interior of a ship. A winding staircase of wood that shone like ebony led to the upper rooms. Mats and carpets covered the stairs and landing-places, and lay before all the doors. The rooms were as small as cells ; the furniture exquisitely clean ; all the knobs and bolts and ornaments of metal shone as if they had just been made; and on every side there were quantities of china jars, vases, and cups; lamps, mirrors, little pictures, brackets, toys, and objects of every use and form, attesting the thousand small needs created by a sedentary life, the provident activity, the constant care, the love of small things, the taste for order and the economy of space; the residence, in short, of a quiet, home-loving woman.
The goddess of this temple, who did not or would not speak French, was hidden somewhere, in some penetralia which I could not guess at.
We went down to see the kitchen; it was splendid. When I returned to Italy and gave a description of it to my mother and the servant, who piqued herself on her neatness, they were annihilated. The walls were as white as untouched snow; the saucepans reflected objects like mirrors; the mantelpiece was ornamented by a species of muslin curtain, like the canopy of a bed, without a trace of smoke ; the fire-place beneath was covered with china tiles that looked as bright as if no fire had ever been lighted there; the shovel, tongs, and poker, and the chains and hooks, seemed made of polished steel. A lady in a ball-dress might have gone into every hole and corner of that kitchen and come forth without a smirch upon her whiteness.
The maid-servant, meanwhile, was cleaning up, and her master commented thus : “To have an idea of what cleanliness is with us, you should watch one of these women for an hour. Here a house is soaped, and sponged, and rubbed, like a person. It is not cleaning, it is making a toilette. She blows in the cracks between the bricks, pokes in the corners with finger and pin, makes a minute supervision enough to fatigue the eye as well as the arm. It is truly a national passion. These girls, who are in general phlegmatic enough, become quite frantic on cleaning days. We are not masters in our own houses then. They invade the chambers, and turn everything upside down; they are real cleaning Bacchantes; they excite themselves in washing and sweeping.”
I asked him whence this mania for which Holland is remarkable was supposed to come. He gave me the same reasons that are given by others : the atmosphere of the country, which injures wood and metal; the dampness, the smallness of the houses, and the multiplicity of small objects favoring dust; the superabundance of water; a certain need of the eye, that eventually finds beauty in simple cleanliness; and finally, that emulation which pushes things to extremes. ” But this is not,” he added, ” the cleanest part of Holland : the excess, the delirium of cleanliness is to be found in the northern provinces.”
We went out for a turn through the city. It was not yet noon; and the servant-maids were out on all sides as at Rotterdam. It is a singular thing that all over the country, from Rotterdam to Gröningen and from Harlem to Nimegnen, they are all dressed exactly alikein a lilac print gown, with a white cap and white wooden shoes. I thought at first that they formed a sort of national corporation and wore a uniform. They are generally very young, middle-aged women not being able to endure the fatigues that they go through, blonde and plump, with the posterior curves (to quote Diderot) enormous, and an appearance of perfect health shown in their clear white and red complexions.
All at once I remembered a certain entry made in my note-book before leaving Italy, and I asked my companion: Are servants in Holland the eternal torments of their mistresses?”
Here comes in a parenthesis. It is acknowledged that ladies not too highly placed to have to do directly with their female servants generally talk, in their visits to each other, of nothing but these servants. It is always the same complaint of insupportable defects, of insolence endured, of profiting on their purchases, of shameless pretensions, and of other similar calamities, which all end with the same refrain : that honest and faithful servants, such as once gained the affection of the family and grew old in their service, are no more to be found ; that one must change continually, and that there is no way cf remedying the evil.
Is this true, or is it not true ? Is it a consequence cf the liberty and equality of classes, rendering service harder and servants more exacting? Is it an effect of the relaxation of manners and public discipline, felt also in the kitchen? However it may be, it is a fact that in my own house I heard the same ever-recurring complaint, until one day, when I was about to leave for Madrid, I said to my mother: “If anything in Madrid can console me in my absence from my family, it will be that I never shall hear this question discussed.”
On my arrival at Madrid, the very first thing my land-lady said to me was that she had been obliged to change her servants three times in one month, that it was really a desperate state of things, and that she did not know which way to turn, and every day there was the same lamentation.
At home again I related this anecdote, and my mother, laughing, said that it was probably an annoyance which existed in all countries. “No,” I answered, “in the north it cannot be so.” I went to Paris, and asked the first acquaintance that I met, whether there, as in Italy and Spain, ladies’ lives were made miserable by their servants. “Ah ! mon cher Monsieur !” she replied, with clasped hands and upturned eyes ; “do not speak of it ! ” and then followed a long and lamentable story. Let us see in London, I thought. Entering into conversation with an English lady, and asking the same question, she covers her eyes with her hands, and responds with emphasis : ” They are flagellum Dei ! ”
Some hope still remained to me in Holland, and I questioned my cicerone at Delft ; and awaited with anxiety his reply. ” Sir,” he answered, after a moment’s reflection, “we have in Holland a proverb which pronounces that servants are a cross sent from God.” My last hope was annihilated. ” First of all,” he continued, ” there is the trouble that if your house is of any size you must keep two women-servants, one to cook and one to clean, it being impossible, with the mania which possesses them for, washing the very air, that one can serve for both. Then they are all mad for liberty; they choose to stay out until ten o’clock in the evening; to have one day in the seven completely free. Then their betrothed lover must be tolerated as a visitor; and they must be allowed to dance in the streets, and to go and raise the very devil at the Kermesse. More, when you dismiss them, you must wait until they find it convenient to go, and often that is not for months. Their wages amount to ninety or one hundred florins a year; and besides this, so much percentage on all the house expenditure; presents, rigorously exacted, from all invited guests; extra presents of money and clothes; and always and above all, patience, patience, and again patience.”
Passing through a quiet side-street, I saw two ladies, one after the other, stop and read a placard appended to a door, make a gesture of sorrow, and pass on. My companion explained, in answer to my question, a singular custom of the country. Upon that bit of paper was written that such or such a sick person was worse. When any one of a family is ill, a bulletin is affixed every morning to the door, so that inquiring friends may not have to knock and enter. The same sort of announcement is made on other occasions. In some towns the birth of a boy baby is made known by hanging to the door a pink silk ball covered with lace, which is called in Dutch ” a proof of birth.” If the baby is a girl, there is a small bit of paper attached above it ; if twins, the lace is double ; and for several days after the birth there is a written paper setting forth that the child and mother are doing well, that they have passed a good night, or the contrary, as the case may be. At one time the announcement of birth over a door kept off the family creditors for nine days; but I think this custom is fallen into disuse, although it must have been conducive to an increase of population.
In that short walk about Delft, I met again certain funereal figures which I had seen in Rotterdam, without being able to tell whether they were priests, or magi-strates, or undertakers, for they had a look of all three. They wore three-cornered hats, with a long black weeper, a black swallow-tailed coat, black small-clothes, and stockings, black cloaks, pumps with ribbons, white cravats and gloves, and a black-edged paper always in their hands. My companion informed me that they were called aanspreckers and that their office was to carry the announcement of death to parents and friends, and to proclaim it in the streets. Their dress is modified in different cities, or according to whether they be Protestant or Catholic. In some places they wear an enormous hat a la Don Basilio. They are in general very carefully dressed and are got up with a certain elegance which contrasts irreverently with their character of announcers of death, or, as some traveller calls them, living mortuary letters.
We saw one standing in front of a house, and my companion called my attention to the fact that the shutters were half closed, which was a sign that someone was dead in the family. I asked who. ” I do not know,” he answered, ” but judging by the shutters it cannot be a very near relative.”
This argument puzzling me somewhat, he explained that in Holland when anyone died in a family, they closed one, or two, or three of the folding shutters, ac-cording to the degree of relationship of the deceased. Each fold of the shutter denoted a degree. For a father or mother, they closed all save one ; for a cousin, one only; for a brother, two; and so on. This custom is apparently an ancient one, still enduring because in this country changes are slow and difficult, only occurring when they are unavoidable.
I should have liked to see at Delft the house where the beer-shop of the painter Steen once existed, but my host assured me that there was no remembrance of it remaining. Apropos of painters, however, he gave me the agreeable intelligence that I was then in that part of Holland which is comprised between Delft, the Hague, the sea, the town of Alkmar, the gulf of Amsterdam, and the ancient lake of Harlem, which may be called properly the country of Dutch painting, both because the great artists were born there, and because, being singularly picturesque, they loved it and studied it much. I was therefore in the bosom of Holland, and leaving Delft should enter her very heart.
Before my departure I took a hasty glance at the military arsenal, occupying a large building which served first as a storehouse to the East India Company, and communicates with an artillery-barrack and a large powder-magazine placed outside the city. There is also at Delft the great Polytechnic School of Engineering, the true military school of Holland, whence issue the officers for the army of defence against the sea, and it is these youthful warriors of the dykes and cataracts, about three hundred, who give life to the quiet city of Grotius. Whilst I was going on board ‘the vessel that was to take me to the Hague, my Dutchman was describing to me the last festival celebrated by the students of Delft; one of those festivals peculiar to Holland, a kind of historical masque-rade, like a reflection of past grandeur, which serves to maintain alive in the minds of people the traditions of illustrious personages and events of others times. One great cavalcade represented the entrance into Arnhem in 1492 of Charles d’Egmont, Duke of Gueldres and Count of Zuften; of that family of Egmont which gave in the noble and unfortunate Count Lamoral the first great victim for the liberty of Holland to the Duke of Alva’s axe. Two hundred students on horseback, in armour, with gilded and emblazoned coats of arms, with tall plumes and long swords, formed the cortége of the Duke of Gueldres. Then came halberdiers, archers, and lansquenechts, dressed in all the showy splendor of the fifteenth century; the bands played, the city glowed with lights, and an immense crowd from all parts of Holland thronged the streets and looked on at that splendid vision of a past age.