Chapter XVI. Leeuwarden and Neighbourhood
An agricultural centre - A city of prosperity and health - The
fair Frisians - Metal head-dresses - Silver work - The
Chancellerie - A paradise of blue china - Jumping poles - The
sea swallow - A Sunday excursion - Dogs for England - The
idle busybodies - The stork - A critical village - The green
crop - The dyke - A linguist - Harlingen - A Dutch picture
collector - Franeker - The Planetarium - Dokkum's bad
reputation - A discursive guide-book - Bigamy punished - A
husband-tamer - Boxum's record - Sjuck's short way - The heroic
Bauck - A load of exorcists - Poor Lysse.
In an hour or two the train brings us to Leeuwarden, between flat green meadows unrelieved save for the frequent isolated homesteads, in which farm house, dairy, barn, cow stalls and stable are all under one great roof that starts almost from the ground. On the Essex flats the homesteads have barns and sheltering trees to keep them company: here it is one house and a mere hedge of saplings or none at all. For the rest - cows and plovers, plovers and cows.
Friesland's capital, Leeuwarden, might be described as an English market town, such as Horsham in Sussex, scoured and carried out to its highest power, rather than a small city. The cattle trade of Friesland has here its headquarters, and a farmer needing agricultural implements must fare to Leeuwarden to buy them. The Frisian farmer certainly does need them, for it is his habit to take three crops of short hay off his meadows, rather than one crop of long hay in the English manner.
Not only cattle but also horses are sold in Leeuwarden market. The Frisian horse is a noble animal, truly the friend of man; and the Frisians are fond of horses and indulge both in racing and in trotting - or "hardraverij" as they pleasantly call it. I made a close friend of a Frisian mare on the steamer from Rotterdam to Dort. At Dort I had to leave her, for she was bound for Nymwegen. A most charming creature.
Leeuwarden is large and prosperous and healthy. What one misses in it is any sense of intimate cosiness. One seems to be nearer the elements, farther from the ingratiating works of man, than hitherto in any Dutch town. The strong air, the openness of land, the 180 degrees of sky, the northern sharpness, all are far removed from the solace of the chimney corner. It is a Spartan people, preferring hard health to overcoats; and the streets and houses reflect this temperament. They are clean and strong and bare - no huddling or niggling architecture. Everything also is bright, the effect largely of paint, but there must be something very antiseptic in this Frisian atmosphere.
The young women of Leeuwarden - the fair Frisians - are tall and strong and fresh looking; not exactly beautiful but very pleasant. "There go good wives and good mothers," one says. Their Amazonian air is accentuated by the casque of gold or silver which fits tightly over their heads and gleams through its lace covering: perhaps the most curious head-dress in this country of elaborate head-dresses, and never so curious as when, on Sundays, an ordinary black bonnet, bristling with feathers and jet, is mounted on the top of it. That, however, is a refinement practised only by the middle-aged and elderly women: the young women wear either the casque or a hat, never both. If one climbs the Oldehof and looks down on the city on a sunny day - as I did - the glint of a metal casque continually catches the eye. These head-dresses are of some value, and are handed on from mother to daughter for generations. No Dutch woman is ever too poor to lay by a little jewellery; and many a domestic servant carries, I am told, twenty pounds worth of goldsmith's work upon her.
Once Leeuwarden was famous for its goldsmiths and silversmiths, but the interest in precious metal work is not what it was. Many of the little silver ornaments - the windmills, and houses, and wagons, and boats - which once decorated Dutch sitting-rooms as a matter of course, and are now prized by collectors, were made in Leeuwarden.
The city's architectural jewel is the Chancellerie, a very ornate but quite successful building dating from the sixteenth century: first the residence of the Chancellors, recently a prison, and now the Record Office of Friesland. Not until the Middelburg stadhuis shall we see anything more cheerfully gay and decorative. The little Weigh House is in its own way very charming. But for gravity one must go to the Oldehof, a sombre tower on the ramparts of the city. Once the sea washed its very walls.
To the ordinary traveller the most interesting things in the Leeuwarden museum, which is opposite the Chancellerie, are the Hindeloopen rooms which I have described in the last chapter; but to the antiquary it offers great entertainment. Among ancient relics which the spade has revealed are some very early Frisian tobacco pipes. Among the pictures, for the most part very poor, is a dashing Carolus Duran and a very beautiful little Daubigny.
Affiliated to the museum is one of the best collections of Delft china in Holland - a wonderful banquet of blue. This alone makes it necessary to visit Leeuwarden.