Saturday, March 28, 2015

"Amsterdam, where I took my first Dutch walk, is a stately city, even though its street-vistas do look as if they were pictured on a tea-caddy or a hand-screen" H James #QotD

2015.03.27-DSC00250The curious fortunately excludes neither the impressive nor the agreeable; and Amsterdam, where I took my first Dutch walk, is a stately city, even though its street-vistas do look as if they were pictured on a tea-caddy or a hand-screen. They have for the most part a broad, sluggish canal in the middle, on either side of which a row of perfectly salubrious, but extremely attenuated trees grow out of a highly cultivated soil of compact yellow bricks. Cultivated I call it by a proper license, for it is periodically raked by the broom and the scrubbing-brush, and religiously manured with soap-suds. You lose no time, of course, in drawing the inevitable parallel between Amsterdam and Venice, and it is well worth drawing, as an illustration of the uses to which the same materials may be put by different minds. Sky and sea in both cases, with architecture between; winding sea-channels washing the feet of goodly houses erected with the profits of trade. And yet the Dutch city is a complete reversal of the Italian, and its founders might have carefully studied Venetian effect with the set purpose of producing exactly the opposite ones. It produces them in the moral line even more vividly than in the material.It is not that one place is all warm color and the other all cold; one all shimmer and softness and mellow interfusion of every possible phase of ruin, and the other rigidity, angularity, opacity, prosperity, in their very essence; it is more than anything that they tell of such different lives and of such a diflferent view of life. The outward expression on one side is perfect poetry, and on the other is perfect prose; and the marvel is the way in which thrifty Amsterdam imparts the prosaic turn to things which in Venice seem the perfect essence of poetry. Take, for instance, the silence and quiet of the canals; it has in the two places a difference of quality which it is almost impossible to express. In the one it is the stillness of order, and in the other of vacancy — the sleep of idleness and the sleep of rest; the quiet that comes of letting everything go by the board, and the quiet that comes of doing things betimes and being able to sit with folded hands and say they are well done. In one of George Eliot's novels there is a portrait of a thrifty farmer's wife who rose so early in the morning to do her work that by ten o'clock it was all over, and she was at her wit's end to know what to do with her day. This good woman seems to me an excellent image of the genius of Amsterdam as it is reflected in the house-fronts — I penetrated no deeper. 

Henry James. Transatlantic Sketches (1875) , p. 384-85.

Henry James visited Holland in 1874

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