When one thinks of it, the Dutch habit of staring at the visitor until he almost wishes the sea would roll in and submerge him, argues a want of confidence in their country, tantamount to a confession of failure. Had they a little more trust in the attractive qualities of their land, a little more imagination to realise that in other eyes its flatness and quaintness might be even alluring, they would accept and acknowledge the compliment by doing as little as possible to make their country’s admirers uncomfortable.
“Dutch courage,” to which I refer below, is not our only use of Dutch as a contemptuous adjective. We say “Dutch Gold” for pinchbeck, “Dutch Myrtle” for a weed. “I shall talk to you like a Dutch uncle” is another saying, not in this case contemptuous but rather complimentary—signifying “I’ll dress you down to some purpose”. One piece of slang we share with Holland: the reference to the pawnbroker as an uncle. In Holland the kindly friend at the three brass balls (which it may not be generally known are the ancient arms of Lombardy, the Lombards being the first money lenders,) is called Oom Jan or Uncle John.
There is still another phrase, “Dutch news,” which might be explained. The term is given by printers to very difficult copy—Dean Stanley’s manuscript, for example, was probably known as Dutch news, so terrible was his hand,—and also to “pie”. The origin is to be found in the following paragraph from Notes and Queries. (The Sir Richard Phillips concerned was the vegetarian publisher so finely touched off by Borrow in Lavengro.)
In his youth Sir Richard Phillips edited and published a paper at Leicester, called the Herald. One day an article appeared in it headed ‘Dutch Mail,’ and added to it was an announcement that it had arrived too late for translation, and so had been cut up and printed in the original. This wondrous article drove half of England crazy, and for years the best Dutch scholars squabbled and pored over it without being able to arrive at any idea of what it meant. This famous ‘Dutch Mail’ was, in reality, merely a column of pie. The story Sir Richard tells of this particular pie he had a whole hand in is this:—
“One evening, before one of our publications, my men and a boy overturned two or three columns of the paper in type. We had to get ready in some way for the coaches, which, at four o’clock in the morning, required four or five hundred papers. After every exertion we were short nearly a column; but there stood on the galleys a tempting column of pie. It suddenly struck me that this might be thought Dutch. I made up the column, overcame the scruples of the foreman, and so away the country edition went with its philological puzzle, to worry the honest agricultural reader’s head. There was plenty of time to set up a column of plain English for the local edition.” Sir Richard tells of one man whom he met in Nottingham who for thirty-four years preserved a copy of the Leicester Herald, hoping that some day the matter would be explained.