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At last I made out that it was the feeling that through war we are somehow contemporary again with those grim old times, of castles and prisons and heavy doors and sombre courts and arches

by on October 24, 2013

I have spent a good chunk of last year, reading and learning about Julia Grace Wales and trying to make connections between The Hague and Ottawa. Now that I am back from The Hague – thanks to a travel grant by Canada Arts Council – I find it easier to understand her depiction of places. I thought to share some of her descriptions, specially where she talks about The Hague, as well as the letters that I found them in. What follows has been written on May 11th , 12th , 13th of the year 1915.

I must tell you a little about the Witteburg. It is a very picturesque hotel with a garden and lots of chairs and tables, out of doors. Inside the walls are white and the carpets bright red. The big hall place is full of wicker chairs and tables. All the ceilings here are very high, and the windows seem to disappear up into the clouds pretty nearly. They have heavy hangings. Nothing is a bit like New York. Did I tell you about my first impression of Rotterdam? I was absolutely unprepared for the vividness of the experience of coming into my first foreign city I suddenly forgot the war absolutely and was in a sort of trance for the rest of the day. That river in the sunlight–the barges, the masts, the color, the strange outlines of towers and gables! When we drove through the city to the Hague station, those people who had never seen Holland, we could not talk; we could only hold up our hands and gasp. If you have seen Holland, you know what is it like; if you haven’t, nobody can tell you. Every side street was like the new leaf of a picture book. The train ride to the Hague was another experience. The rest of the party in the compartment I was in–who had been in Holland before–put me at the window and with great glea watched me gasp. Not having any vocabulary I did not attempt to say anything. I merely crowed and oh-ed like a baby. The Hague itself is also very charming but not so picturesque–beautiful, clean and airy, and cosmopolitan.

Well, where was I? I seem to have interrupted myself as usual. May 13 1915 page 2 and page 3.

The same afternoon we went to see the Peace Palace. It is very beautiful, furnished and decorated with all that is wonderful within the artistic power of man. As I looked at the gifts from many nations, testifying to the cunning power of human intelligence, I wondered how it is that humanity is still capable of the utter stupidity of war. The thing that impressed me the most was the long table with the inkstands and the leather chairs–places for the representatives of the nations of the earth. Here is where sometime the collective brain of humanity will be active. We have yet to learn the true meaning of science, its high authority, its beneficence. As Miss Bulch said, the Palace is a beautiful thing, but thus far it is only a body uninformed by spirit. Wait!!! May 13 1915 page 5.

In the course of the day also we saw the [Binnenhof and Ridderzaal] and the museum. The olds courts and arches and grim walls, the Gothic interiors, lofty roofs and windows and dim heavy hangings and [tapestries] -how mediaeval it all is. And the curious part of the whole experience to me was a sensation that at first I could not define. It was a thrill of imagination mingled with almost a sense of fear. At last I made out that it was the feeling that through war we are somehow contemporary again with those grim old times, of castles and prisons and heavy doors and sombre courts and arches. May 13 1915 page 7.

Spellings in [ ] have been corrected.

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