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.