To Texel I did not cross, although it is hard for any one who has read The Riddle of the Sands to refrain. Had we been there in the nesting season I might have wandered in search of the sea birds’ and the plovers’ eggs, just for old sake’s sake, as I have in the island of Coll, but we were too late, and The Helder had depressed us. It was off the Island of Texel on 31st July, 1653, that Admiral Tromp was killed during his engagement with the English under Monk.
Medemblik, situated on the point of a spur of land between The Helder and Enkhuisen, was once the residence of Radbod and the Kings of Frisia. It is now nothing. One good story at any rate may be recalled there. When Radbod, King of the Frisians, was driven out of Western Frisia in 689 by Pepin of Heristal, Duke and Prince of the Franks (father of Charles Martel and great grandfather of Charlemagne, who completed the conquest of Frisia), the defeated king was considered a convert to Christianity, and the preparations for his baptism were made on a grand scale. Never a whole-hearted convert, Radbod, even as one foot was in the water, had a visitation of doubt. Where, he made bold to ask, were the noble kings his ancestors, who had not, like himself, been offered this inestimable privilege of baptism—in heaven or in hell? The officiating Bishop replied that they were doubtless in hell. “Then,” said Radbod, withdrawing his foot, “I think it would be better did I join them there, rather than go alone to Paradise.”
Enkhuisen, where one embarks for Friesland, is a Dead City of the Zuyder Zee, with more signs of dissolution than most of them. Once she had a population of sixty thousand; that number must now be divided by ten.
“Above all things,” says M. Havard, the discoverer of Dead Cities, “avoid a promenade in this deserted town with an inhabitant familiar with its history, otherwise you will constantly hear the refrain; ’Here was formerly the richest quarter of commerce; there, where the houses are falling into total ruin, was the quarter of our aristocracy,’ But more painful still, when we have arrived at what appears the very end of the town, the very last house, we see at a distance a gate of the city. A hundred years ago the houses joined this gate. It took us a walk of twenty minutes across the meadows to arrive at this deserted spot.” I did not explore the town, and therefore I cannot speak with any authority of its possessions; but I saw enough to realise what a past it must have had.
At Enkhuisen was born Paul Potter, who painted the famous picture of the bull in the Mauritshuis at The Hague. The year 1625 saw his birth; and it was only twenty-nine years later that he died. While admiring Potter’s technical powers, I can imagine few nervous trials more exacting than having to live with his bull intimately in one’s room. This only serves to show how temperamental a matter is art criticism, for on each occasion that I have been to the Mauritshuis the bull has had a ring of mute or throbbing worshippers, while Vermeer’s “View of Delft” was without a devotee. I have seen, however, little scenes of cattle by Potter which were attractive as well as masterly.