At Groningen, which is a large prosperous town, and the birthplace both of Joseph Israels and H.W. Mesdag, cheese and dairy produce are left behind. We are now in the grain country. Groningen is larger than Leeuwarden—it has nearly seventy thousand inhabitants—and its evening light seemed to me even more beautifully liquid. I sat for a long time in a cafe overlooking the great square, feeding a very greedy and impertinent terrier, and alternately watching an endless game of billiards and the changing hue of the sky as day turned to night and the clean white stars came out. In Holland one can sit very long in cafes: I had dined and left a table of forty Dutchmen just settling down to their wine, at six o’clock, with the whole evening before me.
Groningen takes very good care of itself. It has trams, excellent shops and buildings, a crowded inland harbour, and a spreading park where once were its fortifications. The mounds in this park were the first hills I had seen since Laren. The church in the market square is immense, with a high tower of bells that kept me awake, but had none of the soothing charm of Long John at Middelburg, whose praises it will soon be my privilege to sound. The only rich thing in the whitewashed vastnesses of the church is the organ, built more than four hundred years ago by Rudolph Agricola of this province. I did not hear it.
At Groningen Roman Catholic priests become noticeable—so different in their stylish coats, square hats and canes, from the blue-chinned kindly slovens that one meets in the Latin countries. (In the train near Nymwegen, however, where the priests wear beavers, I travelled with a humorous old voluptuary who took snuff at every station and was as threadbare as one likes a priest to be.) Looking into the new Roman Catholic church at Groningen I found a little company of restless boys, all eyes, from whom at regular intervals were detached a reluctant and perfunctory couple to do the Stations of the Cross. I came as something like a godsend to those that remained, who had no one to supervise them; and feeling it as a mission I stayed resolutely in the church long after I was tired of it, writing a little and examining the pictures by Hendriex, a modern painter too much after the manner of the Christmas supplement—studied the while by this band of scrutinising penitents. I hope I was as interesting and beguiling as I tried to be. And all the time, exactly opposite the Roman Catholic church, was reposing in the library of the University no less a treasure than the New Testament of Erasmus, with marginal notes by Martin Luther. There it lay, that afternoon, within call, while the weary boys pattered from one Station of the Cross to another, little recking the part played by their country in sapping the power of the faith they themselves were fostering, and knowing nothing of the ironical contiguity of Luther’s comments.