BALTIC COMMUNITIES

AT Vordingborg, a small town at the extreme south of Sjaelland, the
largest and easternmost of the Danish islands, we felt ourselves to
be really for the first time in pure and simple Denmark (Esbjerg had
a certain international quality). We had sailed through the Langelands
Belt, skirting the monotonous agricultural coasts of all sorts of
islands, great and small, until one evening we reached this city, which
looked imposing on the map. When we had followed the skipper ashore on
his marketing expedition, and trodden all the stony streets of little
Vordingborg, we seemed to know what essential Denmark, dozing in the
midst of the Baltic, truly was.

Except a huge and antique fort, there was no visible historical basis
to this town. The main thoroughfare showed none of the dignity of
tradition. It was a bourgeois thoroughfare, and comfortable bourgeoises
were placidly shopping therein–the same little bourgeoises that one
sees all over the world. A fairly large hotel; sundry tobacconists;
a bookseller who also sold wall-papers; a sausage-shop, with a girl
actuating an efficient sausage-slicing machine, and in the window an
electric fan whirring close to a gigantic sausage. In the market, on a
vague open space, a few carts, with their shafts on the ground; a few
stalls; a few women; a butcher whipping off a hungry dog; three cheeses
on a stand; baskets of fruit and vegetables on the Danish ground; our
skipper chattering by signs and monosyllables in the middle. That was
Vordingborg.

[Illustration: 0146]

In the churchyard there were only two graves. The church had no more
architectural interest than a modern church in a London suburb, though
it was older. We went within. The numbers of the hymns at the last
service were still forlornly stuck up on the indicator. The altar and
screen were ingenuously decorated in the style of a high-class booth
at a fair. Three women in huge disfiguring aprons were cleaning the
interior. Their cloaks and a white umbrella lay on the stone floor.
They never even glanced at us. We left the church, and then skirting
market-gardens and climbing over the ramparts of the fort, we descended
to the mournful little railway station, and as we watched a little train
amble plaintively in and out of that terminus, we thought of the numbers
of the hymns sung at the last service in the church, and the immense
devastating ennui of provincial existence in remote places enveloped us
like a dank fog. We set sail, and quitted Vordingborg forever, lest we
might harden our hearts and be unjust to Vordingborg, which, after all,
at bottom, must be very like a million other townlets on earth.

Compared with some of the ports we made, Vordingborg was a metropolis
and a center of art. When we had threaded through the Ulfsund and the
Stege Strand and the intricacies of the Rogestrommen, we found shelter
in a village harbor of the name of Faxo. Faxo had nothing–nothing but
a thousand trucks of marl, a girl looking out of a window, and a locked
railway station. We walked inland into a forest, and encountered the
railway track in the middle of the forest, and we walked back to Faxo,
and it was the same Faxo, except that a splendid brig previously at
anchor in the outer roads was slipping away in the twilight, and leaving
us alone in Faxo.

At Spotsbjerg, on the north of the island of Sjælland, a small, untidy
fishing village with a harbor as big as a swimming-bath, there was not
even a visible church; we looked vainly for any church. But there was
a telephone, and on the quay there was a young and pretty girl leaning
motionless on her father’s, or her grandfather’s, tarpaulin shoulder.
Full of the thought that she would one day be old and plain, we fled
from Spotsbjerg, and traveled an incredible distance during the whole
of a bright Sunday, in order to refresh our mundane instincts at the
capital of the Jutland peninsula, Aarhus.

[Illustration: 0151]

And on approaching Aarhus, we ran into a regatta, and the _Velsa_ had
less of the air of an aristocrat among the industrial classes than in
such ports as Spotsbjerg and Faxo. Further, a reporter came to obtain
a “story” about the strange Dutch yacht with the English ensign. It was
almost equal to being anchored off the Battery, New York.

At Aarhus the pulse of the world was beating rather loud. In the windows
of the booksellers’ shops were photographs of the director of the
municipal theater surrounded by his troupe of stars. And he exactly
resembled his important brethren in the West End of London. I myself
was among the authors performed in the municipal theater, and I had a
strange, comic sensation of being world-renowned. Crowds surged in the
streets of Aarhus and in its cafés and tram-cars, and at least one of
its taxicabs was driven by a woman. It had a really admirable hotel, the
Royal, with first-class cooking, and a concert every night in its winter
garden, where the ruling classes met for inexpensive amusement, and
succeeded in amusing themselves with a dignity, a simplicity, and a
politeness that could not possibly be achieved in any provincial town in
England, were it five times the size of Aarhus. And why?

Withal, Aarhus, I have to confess, was not much of a place for elegance.
Its women failed, and the appearance of the women is the true test of a
civilization. So far in our Danish experience the women of Esbjerg
stood unrivaled. The ladies of Aarhus, even the leading ladies gathered
together in the Royal Hotel, lacked style and beauty. Many of them had
had the sense to retain the national short sleeve against the ruling of
fashion, but they did not arrive at any effect of individuality. They
were neither one thing nor the other. Their faces showed kindness,
efficiency, constancy, perhaps all the virtues; but they could not
capture the stranger’s interest.

There was more style at Helsingôr (Elsinore), a town much smaller than
Aarhus, but probably enlivened by naval and military influences, by its
close proximity to Sweden, with train-ferry communication therewith, and
by its connection with Hamlet and Shakspere. The night ferries keep the
town unduly awake, but they energize it. Till a late hour the station
and the quay are busy with dim figures of chattering youth in pale
costumes, and the departure of the glittering train-laden ferry to a
foreign country two miles off is a romantic spectacle. The churches of
Helsingôr have an architectural interest, and its fruit shops display
exotic fruits at high prices. Officers flit to and fro on bicycles.
Generals get out of a closed cab at the railway station, and they bear
a furled standard, and vanish importantly with it into the arcana of the
station. The newspapers of many countries are for sale at the kiosk. The
harbor-master is a great man, and a suave.

The pride of Helsingor is the Kronborg Castle, within sight of the town
and most grandiosely overlooking sea and land. Feudal castles are often
well placed, but one seldom sees a renaissance building of such heroic
proportions in such a dramatically conceived situation. The castle is of
course used chiefly as a barracks. On entering the enormous precincts,
we saw through a window a private sitting on a chair on a table, in
fatigue uniform, playing mildly a flageolet, and by his side on the
table another private in fatigue uniform, with a boot in one hand,
doing nothing whatever. And from these two figures, from the whitewashed
bareness of the chamber, and from the flageolet, was exhaled all the
monstrous melancholy of barrack-life, the same throughout the world.
Part of the castle is set aside as a museum, wherein, under the
direction of a guide, one is permitted to see a collection of pictures
the surpassing ugliness of which nearly renders them interesting. The
guide points through a window in the wall ten feet thick to a little
plot of turf. “Where Hamlet walked.” No historical authority is offered
to the visitor for this statement. The guide then leads one through a
series of large rooms, empty save for an occasional arm-chair, to the
true heart of the Kronborg, where he displayed to us a seated statue
of Mr. Hall Caine, tinted an extreme unpleasant bluish-white. An
inscription told that it had been presented to Kronborg by a committee
of Englishmen a few years earlier to mark some anniversary. The guide
said it was a statue of Shakspere. I could not believe him.

Continue Reading

THE YACHT I LOST

OUR adventures toward the Baltic began almost disastrously, because I
put into the planning of them too much wisdom and calculation. We had a
month of time at our disposal. Now, a fifty-ton yacht in foreign parts
thinks nothing of a month. It is capable of using up a month in mere
preliminaries. Hence, with admirable forethought, I determined to send
the yacht on in advance. The _Velsa_ was to cross from her home port,
Brightlingsea, to the Dutch coast, and then, sheltered by many islands,
to creep along the coasts of Hanover, Holstein, Schleswig, and Denmark,
past the mouths of the Elbe, Weser, and Eider, to the port of Esbjerg,
where we were to join her by a fast steamer from Harwich. She was then
to mount still farther the Danish coast, as far as Liim Fjord and, by
a route combining fjords and canals, cross the top of the Jutland
peninsula, and enter the desired Baltic by Randers Fjord. The banal
way would have been through the Kiel Canal. Yachts never take the Liim
Fjord; but to me this was a fine reason for taking the Liim Fjord.
Moreover, English yachts have a habit of getting into trouble with
the German Empire in the Kiel Canal, and English yachtsmen are apt to
languish in German prisons on charges of espionage. I was uncertain
about the comforts provided for spies in German prisons, and I did not
wish to acquire certitude.

So the yacht was despatched. The skipper gave himself the large
allowance of a fortnight for the journey to Esbjerg. He had a beautiful
new 30-horse-power engine, new sails, a new mast. Nothing could stop him
except an east wind. It is notorious that in the North Sea the east wind
never blows for more than three days together, and that in July it never
blows at all. Still, in this July it did start to blow a few days before
the yacht’s intended departure. And it continued to blow hard. In a
week the skipper had only reached Harwich, a bare twenty miles from
Brightlingsea. Then the yacht vanished into the North Sea. The wind
held in the east. After another week I learned by cable that my ship
had reached the Helder, in North Holland. By a wondrous coincidence, my
Dutch skipper’s wife and family are established at the Helder. The east
wind still held. The skipper spent money daily in saddening me by
cable. Then he left the Helder, and the day came for us to board the
mail-steamer at Harwich for Esbjerg.

[Illustration: 0123]

She was a grand steamer, newest and largest of her fine. This was her
very first trip. She was officered by flaxen, ingenuous, soft-voiced
Danes, who had a lot of agreeable Danish friends about them, with whom
they chattered in the romantic Danish language, to us exquisite and
incomprehensible. Also she was full of original Danish food, and
especially of marvelous and mysterious sandwiches, which, with small
quantities of champagne, we ate at intervals in a veranda cafe passably
imitated from Atlantic liners. Despite the east wind, which still held,
that steamer reached Esbjerg in the twinkling of an eye.

When I say the twinkling of an eye, I mean twenty-two hours. It was in
the dusk of a Saturday evening that we had the thrill of entering an
unknown foreign country. A dangerous harbor, and we penetrated into it
as great ships do, with the extreme deliberation of an elephant.
There was a vast fleet of small vessels in the basin, and as we slid
imperceptibly past the mouth of the basin in the twilight, I scanned the
multitudinous masts for the mast of the _Velsa_. Her long Dutch streamer
was ever unmistakable. It seemed to us that she ought to be there. What
the mail-steamer could do in less than a day she surely ought to have
done in more than a fortnight, east wind or no east wind. On the map the
distance was simply nothing.

I saw her not. Still, it was growing dark, and my eyes were human eyes,
though the eyes of love. The skipper would probably, after all, be on
the quay to greet us with his energetic optimism. In fact, he was bound
to be on the quay, somewhere in the dark crowd staring up at the great
ship, because he never failed. Were miracles necessary, he would have
accomplished miracles. But he was not on the quay. The _Velsa_ was
definitely not at Eshjerg. We felt lonely, forlorn. The head waiter of
the Hotel Spangsberg, a man in his way as great as the skipper, singled
us out. He had a voice that would have soothed the inhabitants of
purgatory. He did us good. We were convinced that so long as he
consented to be our friend, no serious harm could happen to our
universe. And the hotel was excellent, the food was excellent, the
cigars were excellent. And the three chambermaids of the hotel, flitting
demurely about the long corridor at their nightly tasks, fair, clad
in prints, foreign, separated romantically from us by the palisades of
language–the three modest chambermaids were all young and beautiful,
with astounding complexions.

The next morning the wind was north by east, which was still worse than
east or northeast for the progress of the yacht toward us. Nevertheless,
I more than once walked down across the wharves of the port to the
extreme end of the jetty–about a mile each way each time–in the hope
of descrying the _Velsa’s_ long, red streamer in the offing. It was
Sunday. The town of Esbjerg, whose interest for the stranger is strictly
modern and sociological, was not attractive. Its main street, though
extremely creditable to a small town, and a rare lesson to towns of
the same size in England, was not a thoroughfare in which to linger,
especially on Sunday. In the entire town we saw not a single beautiful
or even ancient building. Further, the port was asleep, and the strong,
gusty breeze positively offensive in the deceptive sunshine.

We should have been bored, we might even have been distressed, had we
not gradually perceived, in one passing figure after another, that the
standard of female beauty in Esbjerg was far higher than in any other
place we had ever seen. These women and girls, in their light Sunday
summer frocks, had beauty, fine complexions, grace, softness, to a
degree really unusual; and in transparent sleeves or in no sleeves at
all they wandered amiably in that northerly gale as though it had been
a southern zephyr. We saw that our overcoats were an inelegance, but
we retained them. And we saw that life in Esbjerg must have profound
compensations. There were two types of beautiful women, one with
straight lips, and the other with the upper lip like the traditional
bow. The latter, of course, was the more generously formed, acquiescent
and yet pouting, more blonde than the blonde. Both types had the effect
of making the foreigner feel that to be a foreigner and a stranger in
Esbjerg, forcibly aloof from all the daily frequentations and intimacies
of the social organism, was a mistake.

[Illustration: 0130]

In the afternoon we hired an automobile, ostensibly to inspect the
peninsula, but in fact partly to see whether similar women prevailed
throughout the peninsula, and partly to give the yacht a chance of
creeping in during our absence. In our hearts we knew that so long as
we stood looking for it it would never arrive. In a few moments, as
it seemed, we had crossed the peninsula to Veile, a sympathetic
watering-place on its own fjord, and were gazing at the desired Baltic,
whereon our yacht ought to have been floating, but was not. It seemed a
heavenly sea, as blue as the Mediterranean.

We had driven fast along rather bad and dusty roads, and had passed
about ten thousand one-story farmsteads, brick-built, splendidly
thatched, and each bearing its date on the walls in large iron figures.
These farmsteads, all much alike, showed that some great change,
probably for the better, must have transformed Danish agriculture about
thirty or forty years ago. But though farmers were driving abroad in
two-horse vehicles, and though certain old men strolled to and fro,
smoking magnificent pipes at least a foot and a half long, the weight
of which had to be supported with the hand, there was little evidence of
opulence or even of ease.

The passage of the automobile caused real alarm among male cyclists and
other wayfarers, who, in the most absurd, girlish manner, would even
leap across ditches to escape the risks of it. The women, curiously,
showed much more valor. The dogs were of a reckless audacity. From every
farmyard, at the sound of our coming, a fierce dog would rush out to
attack us, with no conception of our speed. Impossible to avoid these
torpedoes! We killed one instantaneously, and ran over another, which
somersaulted, and, aghast, then balanced itself on three legs. Scores
of dogs were saved by scores of miracles. Occasionally we came across a
wise dog that must have had previous altercations with automobiles, and
learned the lesson. By dusk we had thoroughly familiarized ourselves
with the flat Danish landscape, whose bare earth is of a rich gray
purple; and as we approached Esbjerg again, after a tour of 120 miles,
we felt that we knew Jutland by heart, and that the yacht could not fail
to be waiting for us in some cranny of the port, ready to take us to
other shores. But the yacht had not come.

Then the head waiter grew to be our uncle, our father, our consoler. It
is true that he told us stories of ships that had set forth and never
been heard of again; but his moral influence was invaluable. He soothed
us, fed us, diverted us, interpreted us, and despatched cables for us.
We called him “Ober,” a name unsuitable to his diminutive form, his few
years, and his chubby face. Yet he was a true Ober. He expressed himself
in four languages, and could accomplish everything. In response to all
our requests, he would murmur in his exquisitely soft voice, “Oh, yes!
oh, yes!” He devised our daily excursions. He sent us to Ribe, the one
ancient town that we saw on the peninsula, in the cathedral of which was
a young girl who had stepped out of a picture by Memling, and who sold
post-cards with the gestures of a virgin saint and the astuteness of a
dealer. He sent us to the island of Fano, where the northeaster blows
straight from Greenland across a ten-mile bathing-beach peopled by
fragile women who saunter in muslin in front of vast hotels beneath a
canopy of flags that stand out horizontally in the terrible breeze. He
provided us with water-bottles and with plates (for palettes ), so that
we could descend to the multicolored port, and there, half sheltered
from the wind by a pile of fish-boxes and from the showers by an
umbrella, produce wet water-colors of fishing-smacks continually in
motion.

Day followed day. We had lived at Esbjerg all our lives. The yacht was
lost at sea. The yacht had never existed. The wife of the skipper, or,
rather, his widow, had twice cabled that she had no news. But the Ober
continued to bear our misfortunes with the most astounding gallantry.
And then there came a cable from the skipper, dated from the island
of Wangeroog…. Wan-geroog! Wangeroog! What a name for an impossible
island! What a name for an island at which to be weatherbound! We knew
it not. Baedeker knew it not. Even the Ober had not heard of it. We
found it at last on a map more than a hundred miles to the south. And
I had been walking down to the jetty thrice a day to gaze forth for the
_Velsa’s wein!_

[Illustration: 0136]

The skipper in his cable asked us to meet him at Friedrichstadt, on the
Eider, in Holstein, Germany. The trains were very slow and awkward. The
Ober said:

“Why do you not take an automobile? Much quicker.”

“Yes; but the German customs?”

“Everything shall be arranged,” said the Ober.

I said:

“I don’t see myself among the German bureaucracy in a hired car.”

The Ober said calmly:

“I will go with you.”

“All the way?”

“I will go with you all the way. I will arrange everything. I speak
German very well. Nothing will go wrong.”

Such a head waiter deserved encouragement. I encouraged him. He put
on his best clothes, and came, smoking cigars He took us faultlessly
through the German customs at the frontier. He superintended our first
meal at a small German hotel. I asked him to join us at table. He bowed
and accepted. When the meal was over, he rose and bowed again. It was a
good meal. He took us through three tire-bursts amid the horrid wastes
of Schleswig-Holstein. He escorted us into Friedrichstadt, and secured
rooms for us at the hotel. Then he said he must return. No! no! We could
not let him abandon us in the harsh monotony of that excessively tedious
provincial town. But he murmured that he must depart. The yacht might
not arrive for days yet. I shuddered.

“At any rate,” I said, “before you leave, inquire where the haven is,
and take me to it, so that I may know how to find it.”

He complied. It was a small haven; a steamer and several ships were in
it. Behind one ship I saw a mast and a red pennant somewhat in the style
of the _Velsa_.

“There,” I said, “my yacht has a mast rather like that.”

I looked again. Utterly impossible that the _Velsa_ could have arrived
so quickly; but it was the _Velsa_. Joy! Almost tears of joy! I led the
Ober on board. He said solemnly:

“It is very beautiful.”

So it was.

But our things were at the hotel. We had our rooms engaged at the hotel.

The Ober said:

“I will arrange everything.”

In a quarter of an hour our baggage was on board, and there was no hotel
hill. And then the Ober really did depart, with sorrow. Never shall
I look on his like again. The next day we voyaged up the Eider, a
featureless stream whose life has been destroyed by the Kiel Canal, to
its junction with the Kiel Canal, eighty-six dull, placid kilometers.
But no matter the dullness; we were afloat and in motion.

We spent about seventy-two hours in the German Empire, and emerged from
it, at Kiel, by the canal, with a certain relief; for the yacht had
several times groaned in the formidable clutch of the Fatherland’s
bureaucracy. She had been stopped by telephone at Friedrichstadt for
having passed the custom-house at the mouth of the Eider, the said
custom-house not being distinguished, as it ought to have been, by the
regulation flag. Again we were stopped by telephone at Rendsburg, on the
canal, for having dared to ascend the Eider without a pilot. Here the
skipper absolutely declined to pay the pilot-fees, and our papers were
confiscated, and we were informed that the panjandrum of the harbor
would call on us. However, he did not call on us; he returned our
papers, and let us go, thus supporting the skipper’s hotly held theory
that by the law of nations yachts on rivers are free.

We were obliged to take a pilot for the canal. He was a nice,
companionable man, unhealthy, and gently sardonic. He told us that the
canal would be remunerative if war-ships paid dues. “Only they don’t,”
he added. Confronted with the proposition that the canal was very ugly
indeed, he repudiated it. He went up and down the canal forever and
ever, and saw nothing but the ships on it and the navigation signals. He
said that he had been piloting for twelve years, and had not yet had the
same ship twice. And there were 150 pilots on the canal!

We put him ashore and into the arms of his wife at Kiel, in heavy
rain and the customary northeaster, and we pushed forward into the
comparative freedom of Kiel Fjord, making for Friedrichsort, which
looked attractive on the chart. But Friedrichsort was too naval for us;
it made us feel like spies. We crossed hastily to Moltenort, a little
pleasure town. Even here we had not walked a mile on land before we
were involved in forts and menacing sign-boards. We retreated. The
whole fjord was covered with battle-ships, destroyers, submarines,
Hydro-aëroplanes curved in the atmosphere, or skimmed the froth off
the waves. The air was noisy with the whizzing of varied screws. It was
enormous, terrific, intimidating, especially when at dusk
search-lights began to dart among the lights of the innumerable
fjord passenger-steamers. We knew that we were deeply involved in
the tremendous German system. Still, our blue ensign flew proudly,
unchallenged.

[Illustration: 0141]

The population of Moltenort was not seductive, though a few young men
here and there seemed efficient, smart, and decent. The women and girls
left us utterly unmoved. The major part of the visitors were content
to sit vacantly on the promenade at a spot where a powerful drain,
discharging into the fjord, announced itself flagrantly to the sense.
These quiet, tired, submissive persons struck us as being the raw
slavish material of the magnificent imperial system, and entirely
unconnected with the wondrous brains that organized it and kept it
going. The next morning we departed very early, but huge targets were
being towed out in advance of us, and we effected our final escape into
the free Baltic only by braving a fleet of battleships that fired into
the checkered sky. Sometimes their shells glinted high up in the sun,
and seemed to be curving along the top edge of an imaginary rainbow.
We slowly left them astern, with, as I say, a certain relief. Little,
unmilitary Denmark lay ahead.

Continue Reading

MUSEUMS

I DID not go yachting in Holland in order to visit museums;
nevertheless, I saw a few. When it is possible to step off a yacht clean
into a museum, and heavy rain is falling, the temptation to remain on
board is not sufficiently powerful to keep you out of the museum. At
Dordrecht there is a municipal museum manned by four officials.
They received us with hope, with enthusiasm, with the most touching
gratitude. Their interest in us was pathetic. They were all dying of
ennui in those large rooms, where the infection hung in clouds almost
visible, and we were a specific stimulant. They seized on us as the
morphinomaniac seizes on an unexpected find of the drug.

[Illustration: 0106]

Just as Haarlem is the city of Frans Hals, so Dordrecht is the city of
Ary Scheffer. Posterity in the end is a good judge of painters, if not
of heroes, but posterity makes mistakes sometimes, and Ary Scheffer
is one of its more glaring mistakes. (Josef Israels seems likely to
be another.) And posterity is very slow in acknowledging an error. The
Dordrecht museum is waiting for such an acknowledgment. When that
comes, the museum will be burned down, or turned into a brewery, and
the officials will be delivered from their dreadful daily martyrdom of
feigning ecstatic admiration for Ary Scheffer. Only at Dordrecht is it
possible to comprehend the full baseness, the exquisite unimportance,
of Scheffer’s talent. The best thing of his in a museum full of him is
a free, brilliant copy of a head by Rembrandt done at the age of eleven.
It was, I imagine, his last tolerable work. His worst pictures, solemnly
hung here, would be justifiably laughed at in a girls’ schoolroom. But
his sentimentality, conventionality, and ugliness arouse less laughter
than nausea. By chance a few fine pictures have come into the Dordrecht
museum, as into most museums. Jakob Maris and Bosboom are refreshing,
but even their strong influence cannot disinfect the place nor keep
the officials alive. We left the museum in the nick of time, and saw no
other visitors.

Now, the tea-shop into which we next went was far more interesting and
esthetically valuable than the museum. The skipper, who knew every shop,
buoy, bridge, and shoal in Holland, had indicated this shop to me as a
high-class shop for costly teas. It was. I wanted the best tea, and
here I got it. The establishment might have survived from the age
when Dordrecht was the wealthiest city in Holland. Probably it had so
survived. It was full of beautiful utensils in practical daily use.
It had an architectural air, and was aware of its own dignity. The
head-salesman managed to convey to me that the best tea–that was,
tea that a connoisseur would call _tea_–cost two and a half florins a
pound. I conveyed to him that I would take two pounds of the same. The
head-salesman then displayed to me the tea in its japanned receptacle.
He next stood upright and expectant, whereupon an acolyte, in a lovely
white apron, silently appeared from the Jan-Steen shadows at the back of
the shop, and with solemn gestures held a tun-dish over a paper bag for
his superior to pour tea into. Having performed his share in the rite,
he disappeared. The parcel was slowly made up, every part of the process
being evidently a matter of secular tradition. I tendered a forty-gulden
note. Whereon the merchant himself arrived in majesty at the counter
from his office, and offered the change with punctilio. He would have
been perfect, but for a hole in the elbow of his black alpaca coat. I
regretted this hole. We left the shop stimulated, and were glad to admit
that Dordrecht had atoned to us for its museum. Ary Scheffer might have
made an excellent tea-dealer.

The museum at Dordrecht only showed in excess an aspect of displayed art
which is in some degree common to all museums. For there is no museum
which is not a place of desolation. Indeed, I remember to have seen only
one collection of pictures, public or private, in which every item was
a cause of joy–that of Mr. Widener, near Philadelphia. Perhaps the
most wonderful thing in the tourist’s Holland is the fact that the small
museum at Haarlem, with its prodigious renown, does not disappoint. You
enter it with disturbing preliminaries, each visitor having to ring a
bell, and the _locus_ is antipathetic; but one’s pulse is immediately
quickened by the verve of those headstrong masterpieces of Hals. And
Ruysdael and Jan Steen are influential here, and even the mediocre
paintings have often an interest of perversity, as to which naturally
the guide-books say naught.

The Teyler Museum at Haarlem also has a few intoxicating works, mixed up
with a sinister assortment of mechanical models. And its aged attendant,
who watched over his finger-nails as over adored children, had acquired
the proper attitude, at once sardonic and benevolent, for a museum
of the kind. He was peculiarly in charge of very fine sketches by
Rembrandt, of which he managed to exaggerate the value.

Few national museums of art contain a higher percentage of masterpieces
than the Mauritshuis at The Hague. And one’s first sight of Rembrandt’s
“Lesson in Anatomy” therein would constitute a dramatic event in any
yachting cruise. But my impression of the Mauritshuis was a melancholy
one, owing to the hazard of my visit being on the great public holiday
of the year, when it was filled with a simple populace, who stared
coarsely around, and understood nothing–nothing. True, they gazed in a
hypnotized semicircle at “The Lesson in Anatomy,” and I can hear amiable
persons saying that the greatest art will conquer even the ignorant
and the simple. I don’t believe it. I believe that if “The Lesson
in Anatomy” had been painted by Carolus-Duran, in the manner of
Carolus-Duran, the ignorant and the simple would have been hypnotized
just the same. And I have known the ignorant and the simple to be
overwhelmed with emotion by spurious trickery of the most absurd and
offensive kind.

An hour or two in a public museum on a national holiday is a tragic
experience, because it forces you to realize that in an artistic
sense the majority and backbone of the world have not yet begun to be
artistically civilized. Ages must elapse before such civilization can
make any appreciable headway. And in the meantime the little hierarchy
of art, by which alone art lives and develops, exists precariously in
the midst of a vast, dangerous population–a few adventurous whites
among indigenous hordes in a painful climate. The indigenous hordes may
have splendid qualities, but they have not that one quality which
more than any other vivifies. They are jockeyed into paying for the
manifestations of art which they cannot enjoy, and this detail is not
very agreeable either. A string of fishermen, in their best blue cloth,
came into the Mauritshuis out of the rain, and mildly and politely
scorned it. Their attitude was unmistakable. They were not intimidated.
Well, I like that. I preferred that, for example, to the cant of ten
thousand tourists.

Nor was I uplifted by a visit to the Mesdag Museum at The Hague. Mesdag
was a second-rate painter with a first-rate reputation, and his taste,
as illustrated here, was unworthy of him, even allowing for the fact
that many of the pictures were forced upon him as gifts. One or two
superb works–a Delacroix, a Dupre, a Rousseau–could not make up for
the prevalence of Mesdag, Josef Israels, etc. And yet the place was full
of good names. I departed from the museum in a hurry, and, having
time to spare, drove to Scheveningen in search of joy. Scheveningen is
famous, and is supposed to rival Ostend. It is washed by the same sea,
but it does not rival Ostend. It is a yellow and a gloomy spot, with a
sky full of kites. Dutchmen ought not to try to rival Ostend. As I left
Scheveningen, my secret melancholy was profoundly established within me,
and in that there is something final and splendid. Melancholy when it
becomes uncompromisingly sardonic, is as bracing as a bath.

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The remarkable thing about the two art museums at Amsterdam, a town
of fine architecture, is that they should both–the Ryks and the
municipal–be housed in such ugly, imposing buildings. Now, as in the
age of Michelangelo, the best architects seldom get the best jobs,
and the result is the permanent disfigurement of beautiful cities.
Michelangelo often had to sit glum and idle while mediocre architects
and artists more skilled than he in pleasing city councils and
building-committees muddled away opportunities which he would have
glorified; but he did obtain part of a job now and then, subject to it
being “improved” by some duffer like Bernini, who of course contrived to
leave a large fortune, whereas if Michelangelo had lived to-day he might
never have got any job at all.

Incontestably, the exterior, together with much of the interior, of the
Ryks depresses. Moreover, the showpiece of the museum, “The Night-Watch”
of Rembrandt, is displayed with a too particular self-consciousness on
the part of the curator, as though the functionary were saying to you:
“Hats off! Speak low! You are in church, and Rembrandt is the god.”
The truth is that “The Night-Watch” is neither very lovable nor very
beautiful. It is an exhibition-picture, meant to hit the wondering
centuries in the eye, and it does so. But how long it will continue to
do so is a nice question.

Give me the modern side of the Ryks, where there is always plenty of
room, despite its sickly Josef Israels. The modern side reëndowed me
with youth. It is an unequal collection, and comprises some dreadful
mistakes, but at any rate it is being made under the guidance of
somebody who is not afraid of his epoch or of being in the wrong. Faced
with such a collection, one realizes the shortcomings of London museums
and the horror of that steely English official conservatism, at once
timid and ruthless, which will never permit itself to discover a foreign
artist until the rest of the world has begun to forget him. At the Ryks
there are Van Goghs and Cézannes and Bonnards. They are not the best,
but they are there. Also there are some of the most superb water-colors
of the age, and good things by a dozen classic moderns who are still
totally unrepresented in London. I looked at a celestial picture of
women–the kind of thing that Guys would have done if he could–painted
perhaps fifty years ago, and as modern as the latest Sargent
water-color. It was boldly signed T. C. T. C.? T. C.? Who on earth could
T. C. he? I summoned an attendant. Thomas Couture, of course! A great
artist! He will appear in the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, about
the middle of the twenty-first century.

Then there was Daumier’s “Christ and His Disciples,” a picture that I
would have stolen had it been possible and quite safe to do so. It might
seen incredible that any artist of the nineteenth century should take
the subject from the great artists of the past, and treat it so as to
make you think that it had never been treated before. But Daumier did
this. It is true that he was a very great artist indeed. Who that has
seen it and understood its tender sarcasm can forget that group of
the exalted, mystical Christ talking to semi-incredulous, unperceptive
disciples in the gloomy and vague evening landscape? I went back to the
yacht and its ignoble and decrepit engine, full of the conviction that
art still lives. And I thought of Wilson Steer’s “The Music-Room” in
the Tate Gallery, London, which magnificent picture is a proof that in
London also art still lives.

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