But we must pause for a little while at Sorgh Vliet (which has the same meaning as Sans Souci), where two hundred years ago lived in genial retirement the writer who best represents the shrewd sagacity of the Dutch character—Jacob Cats, or Vader Cats as he was affectionately called, the author of the Dutch “Household Bible,” a huge miscellaneous collection of wise saws and modern instances, humour and satire, upon all the businesses of life.
Mr. Austin Dobson, who leaves grains of gold on all he touches, has described in his Side-Walk Studies the huge, illustrated edition of Cats’ Works (Amsterdam, 1655) which is held sacred in all rightly constituted old-fashioned Dutch households. I have seen it at the British Museum, and it seems to me to be one of the best picture-books in the world.
As Mr. Dobson says, the life of old Holland is reproduced in it. “What would one not give for such an illustrated copy of Shakespeare! In these pages of Jacob Cats we have the authentic Holland of the seventeenth century:—its vanes and spires and steep-roofed houses; its gardens with their geometric tulip-beds, their formally-clipped alleys and arches, their shining parallelograms of water. Here are its old-fashioned interiors, with the deep fire-places and queer andirons, the huge four-posters, the prim portraits on the wall, the great brass-clamped coffers and carved armories for the ruffs and starched collars and stiff farthingales of the women. In one picture you may see the careful housewife mournfully inspecting a moth-eaten garment which she has just taken from a chest that Wardour Street might envy; in another she is energetically cuffing the ’foolish fat scullion,’ who has let the spotted Dalmatian coach-dog overturn the cauldron at the fire. Here an old crone, with her spectacles on, is cautiously probing the contents of the said cauldron with a fork; here the mistress of the house is peeling pears; here the plump and soft-hearted cheese-wife is entertaining an admirer—outside there are pictures as vivid. Here are the clumsy leather-topped coach with its masked occupant and stumbling horses; the towed trekschuit, with its merry freight, sliding swiftly through the low-lying landscape; the windy mole, stretching seaward, with its blown and flaring beacon-fire. Here again in the street is the toy-shop with its open front and store of mimic drums and halberds for the martial little burghers; here are the fruiteress with her stall of grapes and melons, the rat-catcher with his string of trophies, the fowler and his clap-net, the furrier with his stock of skins.”
In 1860 a number of Van der Venne’s best pictures were redrawn by John Leighton to accompany translations of the fables by Richard Pigot. As a taste of Cats’ quality I quote two of the pieces. Why the pictures should have been redrawn when they might have been reproduced exactly is beyond my understanding. This is one poem:—