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Littell's Living Age/Volume 132/Issue 1705/Scenery in Holland

From The Month.


There is Schiedam, with its three hundred distilleries of the "precious liquor," gin, hollands, which you please, though properly it is Schiedam; there it stands enveloped in smoke, and redolent, out to its very station, with local smells which are not all of spirit; For Schiedam, like Cologne, has odors which are not perfumes. And well indeed it may, seeing that its population comprises sixteen thousand people and forty thousand pigs! The bibeds manufacture and help to consume the spirit, the quadrupeds work not, but fatten upon the grain. Sturdy Dutch are they, both in their several ways, and, as the picture-galleries of Europe show us, dear alike to the hearts, eyes, and hands of the native painters. Next follows Delft, a name familiar in our mouths as household words, for what household is without its delft? Dickens, if we rightly remember, has photographed the place, or should we not rather say, has painted a Dutch word-picture of it, somewhere in his magazine, which is so good that it will well repay a search for it even with so vague a reference as we can give. As we travel on towards the Hague we look with wondering eyes upon the scenery around. It is so familiar: the wide-spreading, flat country, every broad meadow, every stagnant, weed-covered ditch which encloses it and shuts it off from just such another meadow on every side of it; every high and narrow road which rises above and between these verdant meadows and as verdant dykes, every cow ruminating in the rich pastures, or turning its calm placid eyes on the passing train; every farmer jogging along on his heavy horse, and every milkmaid with her bright copper pail, seems to have been painted for us years ago by Cuyp, who has caught, too, with such wondrous skill the sun-glow which illuminates without brightening the scene, and with its rich haze of golden warmth makes languor an enjoyment and idleness almost a necessity of life. Here at our very entrance into the land came upon us that strange sensation, which repetition could never make quite familiar, and which sometimes comes across us so queerly in dreams that we have somewhere and somehow seen and felt all this before. We appear to know what will occur next, and see beforehand place and circumstances which are yet upon us for the first time. Who has not felt and shuddered at this, which in many cases is so inexplicable? But here, of course, the mystery is soon unravelled. The Dutch painters — those, at least, who are Dutch in their subjects also — seeming to have little to kindle their imaginative powers, throw their strength into the real, and concentrate into a literal reproduction of what is before their eyes the faculties which with others are more variously employed. The materials for their compositions are of necessity few and simple, but these they have deeply studied and honestly represented. Doubtless there is a dignity in this simple treatment of homely and unpicturesque scenes, for in truth there is a refinement which the cultivated eye cannot fail to recognize that raises them — artist and picture alike — into a very high place on the roll of art.