Steam-trams—Holland for the people—Quiet Leyden—The Meermansburg—Leyden’s museums—The call of the open—Oliver Goldsmith—A view of the Dutch—“Polite Learning”—“The Traveller”—James Howell—John Evelyn and the Burgundian Jew—Colloquia Peripatetica—St. Peter’s and St. Pancras’s—The Kermis—Drinking in Holland—Poffertjes and Wafelen—America’s master.
We travelled to Leyden from The Hague by the steam-tram, through cheerful domestic surroundings, past little Englishy cottages and gardens. It was Sunday morning, and the villagers of Voorburg and Voorschoten and the other little places en route were idle and gay.
In England light railways are a rarity; Holland is covered with a net-work of them. The little trains rush along the roads all over the country, while the roadside willows rock in their eddying wake. To stand on the steam-tram footboard is one very good way to see Holland. In England of course we can never have such conveniences, England being a free country in which individual rights come first. But Holland exists for the State, and such an idea as the depreciation or ruin of property by running a tram line over it has never suggested itself. It is true that when the new electric tramway between Amsterdam and Haarlem was projected, the comic papers came to the defence of outraged Nature; but they did not really mean it, as the aesthetic minority in England would have meant it.
The steam-tram journeys are always interesting; and my advice to a traveller in Holland is to make as much use of them as he can. This is quite simple as their time-tables are included in the official Reisgids. I like them at all times; but best perhaps when one has to wait in the heart of some quiet village for the other tram to come up. There is something very soothing and attractive in these sudden cessations of noise and movement in the midst of a totally strange community.
Leyden is a paradise of clean, quiet streets—a city of professors, students and soldiers. It has, I think, the prettiest red roofs in any considerable Dutch town: not prettier than Veere’s, but Veere is now only a village. Philosophers surely live here: book-worms to whom yesterday, to-day and to-morrow are one. The sense of commercial enterprise dies away: whatever they are at Amsterdam, the Dutch at Leyden cease to be a nation of shopkeepers.
It was holiday time when I was there last, and the town was comparatively empty. No songs floated through the windows of the clubs. In talk with a stranger at one of the cafes, I learned that the Dutch student works harder in the holidays than in term. In term he is a social and imbibing creature; but when the vacation comes and he returns to a home to which most of the allurements which an English boy would value are wanting, he applies himself to his books. I give the statement as I heard it.