Holland through the eyes of an Englishman: Joseph Banks in The Hague

And here is Ilse Daalhof’s second blogpost:

Among  the Papers of Sir Joseph Banks, which I also mentioned in my last blog post, I found a series called “Journal of a Tour in Holland”. The series consists of 81 pages on a trip Banks made to Holland in 1773, from 12 February to 22 March, and it provides us with his impressions of our country.

William V of Orange (source: Wikipedia)

It might be interesting to know that Banks was not intimidated by the Dutch Stadtholder Willem V of Orange. We can read from his journal that he was not at all impressed by the court nor by his palace. I transcribed the parts of this journal that illustrate this.

From hence we went to Sir Lyonet in order to see his Cabinet of Shells about half which we went through then ran home to dress & went to Sir Jos Yorke who receivd us with the utmost politeness carried us about to all the foreign minister & then to the Prince of Orange whose court was not very magnificent.

The apartments of the Palace were by no means so […] or so handsomely furnishd as those of a noblemens hence in England they were warmd by ill made rusty grates in which Peat was burnd.

Wilhelmina of Prussia (source: Wikipedia)

Banks had something to say about the prince’s wife, Wilhelmina of Prussia, as well, who he thought was not very polite:

We proceeded to the Princess who receivd us also attended by only one ill dressd woman she did not ask us to set down or any one question but whether or not we came from England.

What I thought was interesting is that Joseph Banks commented on the Prince of Orange’s English. Apparently, Banks was quite surprised by the proficiency of the prince’s English and that he was clearly more mannerly than the princess:

We were receivd in a private apartment & asked to let down the Prince spoke English intelligibly & askd some few questions.

De Nieuwe Doelen in 1755 (source: http://historie.hdpnet.nl/stjdoelen.htm)

I think it is safe to say that Joseph Banks was quite used to some luxury, was critical about what he found in Holland in this connection. Even the rooms in the hotel ‘den Nieuwen Doelen’ in The Hague got some heavy criticism. This hotel, which now houses The Hague’s History Museum, was one of the most elegant buildings of that time. Furthermore, Banks questions the taste of Dutchmen in general.

After our audience we returnd to count Bentincks & dind at 6 we went to a concert which was given at the New Doele in a miserable room much resembling a Barn but hung round with tolerable pictures of those who formerly formd the doele a society to whom the house belongd at that time people of the first rank in the country our room tho lighted by a fire at one end & a stove at the other was intolerably cold about 100 midlingly dressd people which we were told was not a thin assembly were there the musick intolerably indifferent & stunningly loud. 

Their only singer was an intolerably bad Italian buf who sang many songs very ill & among the rest that elegant air in il Philosopho – done which in the mouth & with the action of a buf made surely a most ridiculous figure so much for dutch taste.

Clearly, Joseph Banks was not at all impressed by the Dutch court and its customs. It strikes me that a man who had seen so much of the world was disappointed with the apparent austerity of the Netherlands. This makes me wonder: was England really that much bigger, more luxurious and extravagant? Or was Joseph Banks always this dissatisfied? Nevertheless, it seems as if through the eyes of a foreigner Holland was not that  impressive.

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1 Response to Holland through the eyes of an Englishman: Joseph Banks in The Hague

  1. I told Charlotte Eymael, head archivist of the Dutch Royal Family Archive, about this very interesting discovery, and she told me that she the Archive possesses a letter by William V to his daughter Louise , dated 26 January 1795, that he was the only member of the family who knew English fairly well. How would he have learnt English, I wonder?

    Ms Eymael told me that the source for the information is an article by Thomas H. von der Dunk called “Een vorstelijk balling als tourist. De reizen van voormalig stadhouder Willem V in Engeland 1795-1801”, Jaarboek Oranje-Nassau Museum, 1996.

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