In 1673 Sir William Temple published his Observations Upon The United Provinces of The Netherlands. He was in a good position to write about what is now The Netherlands as he had lived in The Hague as the English ambassador between 1668 and 1671 and before that worked as a diplomat in Brussel. He became very friendly with the Dutch statesman Johan de Witt and this friendship is probably partly responsible for Temple’s pro-Dutch attitude, which, as described in his Memoirs, put him in a difficult position when anti-Dutch sentiments started to prevail in England. One of his achievements was to help arrange the marriage of Mary (daughter of the English king James II) and William of Orange, who became the English King William III after the Glorious Revolution.
In His Observations Temple describes the history, government, trade, religion, etc. of The Netherland. The most interesting and amusing chapter, however, is ‘Of their People and Dispositions.‘
Here are some nuggets:
- [They] are a race of People diligent rather than laborious; dull and slow of Understanding, and so not dealt with by hasty Words, but manag’d easily by soft and fair; and yielding to plain Reason, if you give them time to understand it.
- There are some customs, or Dispositions, that seem to run generally through all these Degrees of Men among them; as great Frugality, and Order, in their Expenses.
- Among the many and various Hospitals … I was affected with none more than that of the aged Sea-Men at Enchusyen [=Enkhuizen] … And here I met with the only rich Man, that I ever saw in my Life: For one of these old Sea-Men entertaining me a good while with the plain Stories of his Fifty Years Voyages and Adventures, while I was viewing their Hospital; I gave him at parting a Piece of their Coin about the value of a Crown: he took it smiling, and offer’d it me again; but when I refus’d it, he askt me, What he should do with Mony? for all that ever they wanted, was provided for them at their House. I left him to overcome his Modesty as he could; but a Servant coming after me, saw him give it to a little Girl that open’d the Church-door, as he pass’d by him: Which made me reflect upon the fantastic Calculation of Riches and Poverty that is current in the World, by which a man that wants a Million, is a Prince; He that wants but a Groat, is a Beggar; and this was a poor Man, that wanted nothing at all.
- Their Tempers are not airy enough for Joy, or any unusual strains of Pleasant Humour; nor warm enough for Love. This is talkt of sometimes among the younger Men, but as a thing they have heard of, rather than felt.
- The Two Characters that are left by the old Roman Writers [Tacitus], of the ancient Batavi or Hollanders, are, That they were both bravest among the German Nations, and the most obstinate Lovers and Defenders of their Liberty; which made them exempted from all Tribute by the Romans.
There are plenty more interesting quotes, but I’ll save them for another post.