Holland, v. 1 (of 2)

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Front Cover

A Dutch Windmill.




Author of “Spain,” “Morocco,” etc.





Vol. I.



Copyright, 1894, by







Photographs taken expressly for this edition of “Holland” by Dr. Charles L. Mitchell, Philadelphia.

Photogravures by A. W. Elson & Co., Boston.

A Dutch WindmillFrontispiece.
Dutch Fishing-boats26
Dordrecht—Canal with Cathedral in the Distance48
In Rotterdam64
Interior of the Church of St. Lawrence80
On the Meuse, near Rotterdam94
The Steiger, Rotterdam110
The Statue of Tollens126
Near the Arsenal, Delft134
Monument of Admiral Van Tromp140
Stairway where William the Silent was Assassinated in the Prinsenhof, Delft150
Refectory of the Convent of St. Agatha, Delft156
Old Delft166
On the Canal near Delft174
The Binnenhof, The Hague184
Paul Potter’s Bull198
On the Road to Scheveningen214
Fisherman’s Children, Scheveningen228
The Main Drive in the Bosch, The Hague246
The Vyver, The Hague262


ONE who looks for the first time at a large map of Holland must be amazed to think that a country so made can exist. At first sight, it is impossible to say whether land or water predominates, and whether Holland belongs to the continent or to the sea. Its jagged and narrow coast-line, its deep bays and wide rivers, which seem to have lost the outer semblance of rivers and to be carrying fresh seas to the sea; and that sea itself, as if transformed to a river, penetrating far into the land, and breaking it up into archipelagoes; the lakes and vast marshes, the canals crossing each other everywhere,—all leave an impression that a country so broken up must disintegrate and disappear. It would be pronounced a fit home for only beavers and seals, and surely its inhabitants, although of a race so bold as to dwell there, ought never to lie down in peace.

When I first looked at a large map of Holland these thoughts crowded into my mind, and I felt a great desire to know something about the formation of this singular country; and as what I learned impelled me to make a book, I write it now in the hope that I may lead others to read it.

Those who do not know a country usually ask travellers, “What sort of place is it?”

Many have told briefly what kind of country Holland is.

Napoleon said: “It is an alluvium of French rivers, the Rhine, the Scheldt, and the Meuse,” and under this pretext he annexed it to the Empire. One writer defined it as a sort of transition between the earth and the sea. Another calls it “an immense surface of earth floating on the water.” Others speak of it as an annex of the old continent, the China of Europe, the end of the earth and the beginning of the ocean—a huge raft of mud and sand; and Philip II. called it “the country nearest hell.”

But on one point they were all agreed, and expressed themselves in the same words: Holland is a conquest of man over the sea; it is an artificial country; the Dutch made it; it exists because the Dutch preserve it, and would disappear if they were to abandon it.

To understand these words we must picture to ourselves Holland as it was when the first German tribes, wandering in search of a country, came to inhabit it.

Holland was then almost uninhabitable. It was composed of lakes, vast and stormy as seas, flowing into each other; marshes and morasses, thickets and brushwood; of huge forests, overrun by herds of wild horses; vast stretches of pines, oaks, and alder trees, in which, tradition tells us, you could traverse leagues passing from trunk to trunk without ever putting your foot to the ground. The deep bays carried the northern storms into the very heart of the country. Once a year certain provinces disappeared under the sea, becoming muddy plains which were neither earth nor water, on which one could neither walk nor sail. The large rivers, for lack of sufficient incline to drain them into the sea, strayed here and there, as if uncertain which road to take, and then fell asleep in vast pools amongst the coast-sands. It was a dreary country, swept by strong winds, scourged by continual rain, and enveloped in a perpetual fog, through which nothing was heard save the moaning of the waves, the roaring of wild beasts and the screeching of sea-fowl. The first people who had the courage to pitch their tents in it were obliged to erect with their own hands, hillocks of earth as a protection from the inundations of the rivers and the invasions of the ocean, and they were obliged to live on these heights like shipwrecked-men on lonely islands, descending, when the waters withdrew, to seek nourishment by fishing, hunting, and collecting the eggs which the sea-fowl had laid on the sands. Cæsar, when he passed by, gave the first name to this people. The other Latin historians spoke with mingled pity and respect of these intrepid barbarians who lived on “a floating country,” exposed to the inclemency of an unfeeling sky and to the fury of the mysterious North Sea. Imagination can picture the Roman soldiers from the heights of the utmost wave-washed citadels of the empire, contemplating with sadness and wonder the wandering tribes of that desolate country, and regarding them as a race accursed of Heaven.

Now, when we reflect that such a region has become one of the richest, most fertile, and best-governed countries in the world, we understand how justly Holland is called the conquest of man.

But it should be added that it is a continuous conquest.

To explain this fact,—to show how the existence of Holland, notwithstanding the great works of defence built by its inhabitants, still requires an incessant struggle fraught with perils,—it is sufficient to glance rapidly at the greatest changes of its physical history, beginning at the time when its people had reduced it to a habitable country.

Tradition tells of a great inundation of Friesland in the sixth century. From that period catastrophes are recorded in every gulf, in every island, one may say, in almost every town, of Holland. It is reckoned that through thirteen centuries one great inundation, besides smaller ones, has taken place every seven years, and, since the country is an extended plain, these inundations were very deluges. Toward the end of the thirteenth century the sea destroyed part of a very fertile peninsula near the mouth of the Ems and laid waste more than thirty villages. In the same century a series of marine inundations opened an immense gap in Northern Holland and formed the Gulf of the Zuyder Zee, killing about eighty thousand people. In 1421 a storm caused the Meuse to overflow, and in one night buried in its waters seventy-two villages and one hundred thousand inhabitants. In 1532 the sea broke the embankments of Zealand, destroyed a hundred villages, and buried for ever a vast tract of the country. In 1570 a tempest produced another inundation in Zealand and in the province of Utrecht; Amsterdam was inundated, and in Friesland twenty thousand people were drowned. Other great floods occurred in the seventeenth century; two terrible ones at the beginning and at the end of the eighteenth; one in 1825, which laid waste Northern Holland, Friesland, Over-Yssel, and Gelderland; another in 1855, when the Rhine, overflowing, flooded Gelderland and the province of Utrecht and submerged a large part of North Brabant. Besides these great catastrophes, there occurred in the different centuries innumerable others which would have been famous in other countries, but were scarcely noticed in Holland—such as the inundation of the large Lake of Haarlem caused by an invasion of the sea. Flourishing towns of the Zuyder Zee Gulf disappeared under water; the islands of Zealand were repeatedly covered by the sea and then again left dry; the villages on the coast from Helder to the mouths of the Meuse were frequently submerged and ruined; and in each of these inundations there was an immense loss of life of both man and beast. It is clear that miracles of courage, constancy, and industry must have been wrought by the Dutch people, first in creating, and then in preserving, such a country.

The enemy against which the Dutch had to defend their country was threefold—the sea, the rivers, and the lakes. The Dutch drained the lakes, drove back the sea, and imprisoned the rivers.

To drain the lakes they called the air to their aid. The lakes and marshes were surrounded with dykes, the dykes with canals and an army of windmills; these, putting the suction-pumps in motion, poured the waters into the canals, which conducted them into the rivers and to the sea. Thus vast areas of ground which were buried under water saw the light, and were transformed, as if by enchantment, into fertile plains covered with villages and traversed by roads and canals. In the seventeenth century, in less than forty years, twenty-six lakes were emptied. In Northern Holland alone at the beginning of this century more than six thousand hectares of land were delivered from the waters, in Southern Holland, before 1844, twenty-nine thousand hectares, and in the whole of Holland, from 1500 to 1858, three hundred and fifty-five thousand hectares. By the use of steam pumps instead of windmills, the great undertaking of draining the Lake of Haarlem was completed in thirty-nine months. This lake, which threatened the towns of Haarlem, Amsterdam, and Leyden with raging storms, was forty-four kilometers in circumference. At present the Hollanders are contemplating the prodigious enterprise of draining the Gulf of the Zuyder Zee, which covers a space of more than seven hundred square kilometers.

The rivers, another internal enemy of Holland, did not cost less fatigue or fewer sacrifices. Some, like the Rhine, which loses itself in the sand before reaching the ocean, had to be channelled and protected from the tide at their mouths by immense locks; others, like the Meuse, were flanked by large dykes, like those raised to force back the sea; others were turned from their channels. The wandering waters were gathered together, the course of the rivers was regulated, the streams were divided with rigorous precision, and sent in different directions to maintain the equilibrium of the enormous liquid mass,—for the smallest deviation might cause the submersion of whole provinces. In this manner all of the rivers, which originally wandered unrestrained, swamping and devastating the whole country, have been reduced to streams and have become the servants of man.

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