Chapter IV. Delft
The ornament of the Dutch people, the formidable in battle, lies low, he who never lay down in his life, and taught by his example that a commander should die standing, he, the love of his fellow-citizens, the terror of his enemies, the wonder of the ocean.
Maarten Harpertszoon Tromp, a name comprehending more praise than this stone can contain, a stone truly too narrow for him, for whom East and West were a school, the sea the occasion of triumph, the whole world the scene of his glory, he, a certain ruin to pirates, the successful protector of commerce; useful through his familiarity, not low; after having ruled the sailors and the soldiers, a rough sort of people, in a fatherly and efficaciously benignant manner; after fifty battles in which he was commander or in which he played a great part; after incredible victories, after the highest honours though below his merits, he at last in the war against the English, nearly victor but certainly not beaten, on the 10th of August, 1653, of the Christian era, at the age of fifty-six years, has ceased to live and to conquer.
The fathers of the United Netherlands have erected this memorial in honour of this highly meritorious hero.
There lie in Delft's Old Church also Pieter Pieterzoon Hein, Lieut.-Admiral of Holland; and Elizabeth van Marnix, wife of the governor of Bergen-op-Zoom, whose epitaph runs thus: -
Here am I lying, I Elizabeth, born of an illustrious and ancient family, wife to Morgan, I, daughter of Marnix, a name not unknown in the world, which, in spite of time, will always remain. There is virtue enough in having pleased one husband, which his so precious love testifies.
The tomb of Antony van Leeuwenhoek, the inventor of the microscope, is also to be seen in the church. "As everybody, O Wanderer," the epitaph concludes, "has respect for old age and wonderful parts, tread this spot with respect; here grey science lies buried with Leeuwenhoek."
Each of the little guide-books, which are given to every purchaser of a ticket to enter the churches, is prefaced by four "Remarks," of which I quote the third and fourth: -
3. Visitors are requested not to bestow gifts on the sexton or his assistants, as the former would lose his situation, if he accepted; he is responsible for his assistants.
4. The sexton or his assistants will treat the visitors with the greatest politeness.
I am not certain about the truth of either of these clauses, particularly the last. Let me explain.
The sexton of the Old Church hurried me past these tombs with some impatience. I should naturally have taken my time, but his attitude of haste made it imperative to do so. Sextons must not be in a hurry. After a while I found out why he chafed: he wanted to smoke. He fumbled his pipe and scraped his boots upon the stones. I studied the monuments with a scrutiny that grew more and more minute and elaborate; and soon his matches were in his hand. I wanted to tell him that if I were the only obstacle he might smoke to his heart's content, but it seemed to be more amusing to watch and wait. My return to the tomb of the ingenious constructor of the microscope settled the question. Probably no one had ever spent more than half a minute on poor Leeuwenhoek before; and when I turned round again the pipe was alight. The sexton also was a changed man: before, he had been taciturn, contemptuous; now he was communicative, gay. He told me that the organist was blind - but none the less a fine player; he led me briskly to the carved pulpit and pointed out, with some exaltation, the figure of Satan with his legs bound. The cincture seemed to give him a sense of security.
In several ways he made it impossible for me to avoid disregarding Clause 3 in the little guide-books; but I feel quite sure that he has not in consequence lost his situation.
Delft's greatest painter was Johannes Vermeer, known as Vermeer of Delft, of whom I shall have much to say both at the Hague and Amsterdam. He was born at Delft in 1632, he died there in 1675; and of him but little more is known. It has been said that he studied under Karel Fabritius (also of Delft), but if this is so the term of pupil-age must have been very brief, for Fabritius did not reach Delft (from Rembrandt's studio) until 1652, when Vermeer was twenty, and he was killed in an explosion in 1654. One sees the influence of Fabritius, if at all, most strongly in the beautiful early picture at The Hague, in the grave, grand manner, of Diana? but the influence of Italy is even more noticeable. Fabritius's "Siskin" is hung beneath the new Girl's Head by Vermeer (opposite page 2 of this book), but they have nothing in common. To see how Vermeer derived from Rembrandt via Fabritius one must look at the fine head by Fabritius in the Boymans Museum at Rotterdam, so long attributed to Rembrandt, but possessing a certain radiance foreign to him.
How many pictures Vermeer painted between 1653, when he was admitted to the Delft Guild as a master, and 1675, when he died, cannot now be said; but it is reasonable to allot to each of those twenty-three years at least five works. As the known pictures of Vermeer are very few - fewer than forty, I believe - some great discoveries may be in store for the diligent, or, more probably, the lucky.
I have read somewhere - but cannot find the reference again - of a ship that left Holland for Russia in the seventeenth century, carrying a number of paintings by the best artists of that day - particularly, if I remember, Gerard Dou. The vessel foundered and all were lost. It is possible that Vermeer may have been largely represented.