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The real home is in Holland--a house of one's own, quite
separate from others, modest, circumspect, and, by reason of its
retirement, unknown to mysteries and intrigues. When the inhabitants
of the house are merry, everything is bright; when they are sad, all
is serious. In these houses, with their canals and drawbridges, every
modest citizen feels something of the solitary dignity of a feudal
lord, and might imagine himself the commander of a fortress or the
captain of a ship; and indeed, as he looks from his windows, as from
those of an anchored vessel, he sees a boundless level plain, which
inspires him with just such sentiments of freedom and solemnity as are
awakened by the sea. The trees that surround his house like a green
girdle allow only a delicate broken light to enter it; boats freighted
with merchandise glide noiselessly past his door; he does not hear the
trampling of horses or the cracking of whips, or songs or street-cries;
all the activities of the life that surrounds him are silent and gentle:
all breathes of peace and sweetness, and the steeple of the church hard
by tells the hour with a flood of harmony as full of repose and constancy
as are his affections and his work.

I knocked at the door, and the master of the house opened it. He read
the letter which I gave him, regarded me critically, and bade me
enter. It is almost always thus. At the first meeting the Dutch are
apt to be suspicious. We open our arms to any one who brings us a
letter of introduction as if he were our most intimate friend, and
very often do nothing for him afterward. The Dutch, on the contrary,
receive you coldly--so coldly, indeed, that sometimes you feel
mortified--but afterward they do a thousand things for you with the
best will in the world, and without the least appearance of doing you
a kindness.

Within, the house was in perfect harmony with its outside appearance;
it seemed to be the inside of a ship. A circular wooden staircase,
shining like polished ebony, led to the upper rooms. There were mats
and carpets on the stairs, in front of the doors, and on the floors.
The rooms were as small as cells, the furniture was as clean as
possible, the door-plates, the knobs, the nails, the brass and the
other metal ornaments were as bright as if they had just left the
hands of the burnisher. Everywhere there was a profusion of porcelain
vases, of cups, lamps, mirrors, small pictures, bureaus, cupboards,
knicknacks, and small objects of every shape and for every use. All
were marvellously clean, and bespoke the thousand little wants that
the love of a sedentary life creates--the careful foresight, the
continual care, the taste for little things, the love of order, the
economy of space; in short, it was the abode of a quiet, domestic
woman.

The goddess of this temple, who could not or did not dare speak
French, was hidden in some inmost recess which I did not succeed in
discovering.

We went down stairs to see the kitchen; it was one gleam of
brightness. When I returned home I described it, in my mother's
presence, to the servant who prided herself on her cleanliness, and
she was annihilated. The walls were as white as snow; the saucepans
reflected everything like so many looking-glasses; the top of the
chimney-piece was ornamented by a sort of muslin curtain like the
curtains of a bed, bearing no trace of smoke; the wall below the
chimney was covered with square majolica tiles which were as clean as
though the fire had never been lighted; the andirons, shovel, and
tongs, the chain of the spit, all seemed to be of burnished steel. A
lady dressed for a ball could have gone round the room and into all
the corners and touched everything without getting a speck of dirt on
her spotless attire.

At this moment the maid was cleaning the room, and my host spoke of
this as follows: "To have an idea of what cleanliness means with us,"
he said, "one ought to watch the work of these women for an hour. Here
they scrub, wash, and brush a house as if it were a person. A house is
not cleaned; it has its toilette made. The girls blow between the
bricks, they rummage in the corners with their nails and with pins,
and clean so minutely that they tire their eyes no less than their
arms. Really it is a national passion. These girls, who are generally
so phlegmatic, change their character on cleaning day and become
frantic. That day we are no longer masters of our houses. They invade
our rooms, turn us out, sprinkle us, turn everything topsy-turvy; for
them it is a gala day; they are like bacchantes of cleanliness; the
madness grows as they wash." I asked him to what he attributed this
species of mania for which Holland is famous. He gave me the same
reasons that many others had given; the atmosphere of their country,
which greatly injures wood and metals, the damp, the small size of the
houses and the number of things they contain, which naturally makes it
difficult to keep them clean, the superabundance of water, which helps
the work, a something that the eye seems to require, until cleanliness
ends by appearing beautiful, and, lastly, the emulation that
everywhere leads to excess. "But," he added, "this is not the cleanest
part of Holland; the excess, the delirium of cleanliness, is to be
seen in the northern provinces."

We went out for a walk about the town. It was not yet noon; servants
were to be seen everywhere dressed just like those in Rotterdam. It is
a singular thing, all the servant-maids in Holland, from Rotterdam to
Groningen, from Haarlem to Nimeguen, are dressed in the same
color--light mauve, flowered or dotted with stars or crosses--and
while engaged in cleaning they all wear a sort of invalid's cap and a
pair of enormous white wooden shoes. At first I thought that they
formed a national association requiring uniformity in dress. They are
generally very young, because older women cannot bear the fatigue they
have to endure; they are fair and round, with prodigious posterior
curves (an observation of Diderot); in the strict sense of the word
they are not at all pretty, but their pink and white complexions are
marvellous, and they look the picture of health, and one feels that it
would be delightful to press one's cheek to theirs. Their rounded
forms and fine coloring are enhanced by their plain style of dress,
especially in the morning, when they have their sleeves turned up and
necks bare, revealing flesh as fair as a cherub's.

Suddenly I remembered a note I had made in my book before starting for
Holland, and I stopped and asked my companion this question: "Are the
Dutch servants the eternal torment of their mistresses?"

Here I must make a short digression. It is well known that ladies of a
certain age, good mothers and good housekeepers, whose social position
does not allow them to leave their servants to themselves--who, for
instance, have only one servant, who has to be both cook and lady's
maid,--it is well known that such ladies often talk for hours on this
subject. The conversations are always the same--of insupportable
defects, insolence that they have had to endure, impertinent answers,
dishonesty in buying the things needed for the kitchen, of waste,
untruthfulness, immense pretensions, of discharges, of the annoyance
of searching for new servants, and other such calamities; the refrain
always being that the honest and faithful servants, who became
attached to the family and grew old in the same service, have ceased
to exist; now one is obliged to change them continually, and there is
no way of getting back to the old order. Is this true or false? Is it
a result of the liberty and equality of classes, making service harder
to bear and the servants more independent? Is it an effect of the
relaxation of manners and of public discipline, which has made itself
felt even in the kitchen? However it may be, the fact remains that at
home I heard this subject so much discussed that one day, before I
left for Spain, I said to my mother, "If anything in Madrid can
console me in being so far from my family, it will be that I shall
hear no more of this odious subject." On my arrival at Madrid I went
into a hostelry, and the first thing the landlady said was that she
had changed her maids three times in a month, and was driven to
desperation: she did not know which saint to pray to: and so long as I
remained there the same lamentation continued. On my return home I
told my family about it; they all laughed, and my mother concluded
that there must be the same trouble in every country. "No," said I,
"in the northern countries it must be different."--"You will see that
I am right," my mother answered. I went to Paris, and of the first
housekeeper with whom I became acquainted I asked the question, "Are
the servants here the everlasting torment of their mistresses, as they
are in Italy and Spain?"--"_Ah! mon cher monsieur_," she answered,
clasping her hands and looking above her, "_ne me parlez pas de ša!_"
Then followed a long story of quarrels, and discharging of servants,
and of trials which mistresses have to endure. I wrote the news to my
mother, and she answered, "We shall see in London."

I went to London, and on the ship which was bearing me to Antwerp I
entered into conversation with an English lady. After we had exchanged
a few words, and I had explained the reason of my curiosity, I asked
the usual question. She turned away her head, put her hand to her
forehead, and then replied, emphasizing each word, "They are the
_flagellum Dei_!"

I wrote home in despair, suggesting however, that I still trusted in
Holland, which was a peaceful country, where the houses were so tidy
and clean and the home-life so sweet. My mother answered that she
thought we might possibly make an exception of Holland. But we were
both rather doubtful. My curiosity was aroused, and she was expecting
the news from me; for this reason, therefore, I put the question to my
courteous guide at Delft. It may be imagined with what impatience I
awaited his reply.

"Sir," answered the Dutchman after a moment's reflection, "I can only
give you this reply: in Holland we have a proverb which says that the
maids are the cross of our lives."

I was completely discouraged.

"First of all," he continued, "the annoyance of living in a large
house is, that we are obliged to keep two servants, one for the
kitchen and one for cleaning, since it is almost impossible, with the
mania they have of washing the very air, that one servant can do both
things.



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