Chapter IV. Delft
To Delft by canal - House-cleaning by immersion - The New
Church - William the Silent's tomb - His assassin - The story
of the crime - The tomb of Grotius - Dutch justice - The
Old Church - Admiral Tromp - The mission of the broom - The
sexton's pipe - Vermeer of Delft - Lost masterpieces - The wooden
petticoat - Modern Delft pottery and old breweries.
I travelled to Delft from Rotterdam in a little steam passenger barge, very long and narrow to fit it for navigating the locks; which, as it is, it scrapes. We should have started exactly at the hour were it not that a very small boy on the bank interrupted one of the crew who was unmooring the boat by asking for a light for his cigar, and the transaction delayed us a minute.
It rained dismally, and I sat in the stuffy cabin, either peering at the country through the window or talking with a young Dutchman, the only other traveller. At one village a boy was engaged in house-cleaning by immersing the furniture, piece by piece, bodily in the canal. Now and then we met a barge in full sail on its way to Rotterdam, or overtook one being towed towards Delft, the man at the rope bent double under what looked like an impossible task.
Little guides to the tombs in both the Old and the New Church of Delft have been prepared for the convenience of visitors by Dr. G. Morre, and translations in English have been made by D. Goslings, both gentlemen, I presume, being local savants. The New Church contains the more honoured dust, for there repose not only William the Silent, who was perhaps the greatest of modern patriots and rulers, but also Grotius.
The tomb of William the Silent is an elaborate erection, of stone and marble, statuary and ornamentation. Justice and Liberty, Religion and Valour, represented by female figures, guard the tomb. It seems to me to lack impressiveness: the man beneath was too fine to need all this display and talent. More imposing is the simplicity of the monument to the great scholar near by. Yet remembering the struggle of William the Silent against Spain and Rome, it is impossible to stand unmoved before the marble figure of the Prince, lying there for all time with his dog at his feet - the dog who, after the noble habit of the finest of such animals, refused food and drink when his master died, and so faded away rather than owe allegiance and affection to a lesser man.
There is an eloquent Latin epitaph in gold letters on the tomb; but a better epitaph is to be found in the last sentence of Motley's great history, perhaps the most perfect last sentence that any book ever had: "As long as he lived, he was the guiding-star of a whole brave nation, and when he died the little children cried in the streets".
Opposite the Old Church is the Gymnasium Publicum. Crossing the court-yard and entering the confronting doorway, one is instantly on the very spot where William the Silent, whose tomb we have just seen, met his death on July 10th, 1584.
The Prince had been living at Delft for a while, in this house, his purpose partly being to be in the city for the christening of his son Frederick Henry. To him on July 8th came a special messenger from the French Court with news of the death of the Duke of Anjou; the messenger, a protege of the Prince's, according to his own story being Francis Guion, a mild and pious Protestant, whose father had been martyred as a Calvinist. How far removed was the truth Motley shall tell: "Francis Guion, the Calvinist, son of the martyred Calvinist, was in reality Balthazar Gerard, a fanatical Catholic, whose father and mother were still living at Villefans in Burgundy. Before reaching man's estate, he had formed the design of murdering the Prince of Orange, 'who, so long as he lived, seemed like to remain a rebel against the Catholic King, and to make every effort to disturb the repose of the Roman Catholic Apostolic religion'. When but twenty years of age, he had struck his dagger with all his might into a door, exclaiming, as he did so, 'Would that the blow had been in the heart of Orange!'"