Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > Russian, Scandinavian, etc.
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vol. XIV: Russian—Scandinavian—Miscellaneous
 
Droogstoppel’s Views on Education
By Multatuli (Eduard Douwes Dekker) (1820–1887)
 
From “Max Havelaar”

I AM a coffee-broker, and live at No. 37 Lauriergracht. It is not my custom to write novels, or any such thing; so it was a long time before I made up my mind to order a couple of reams of paper and begin the work which you, dear reader, have just taken up, and which you ought to read if you are in the coffee business—or, in fact, if you are anything else. And not only have I never written anything which was in the least like a novel, but I don’t hold with even reading anything of the sort, because I am a man of business. For several years past I have been asking myself, What is the use of such things? And I am perfectly amazed at the impudence of poets and novelists in palming off upon you things which have never happened, and, for the most part, never can happen. Now, in my business—I am a coffee-broker, and live in the Lauriergracht, No. 37—if I were to send in to a principal (a principal is a man who sells coffee) an account containing only a small part of the untruths which are the main point in all poems and romances, why, he would at once go to Busselinck & Waterman. (Busselinck & Waterman are coffee-brokers too; but it is not necessary for you to know their address.) So I take good care not to write any novels or send in wrong accounts. I have always noticed that persons who let themselves in for that kind of thing generally get the worst of it. I am forty-three, and have been at the Exchange for twenty years, so that I have every right to put myself forward when a man of experience is in demand. I have seen plenty of firms fail in my time; and usually, when I examined into the causes of their failure, it seemed to me that they must be sought for in the wrong direction given to most people in their youth.
  1
  I say, “Truth and sound sense!” And that I stick to. The mistake comes in, in the first place, with Van Alphen, even in his very first line about the “dear little creatures.” What on earth could induce this old gentleman to call himself an adorer of my little sister Triutje, who had sore eyes, or of my brother Gerrit, who was always biting his nails? And yet he says that “he sang these verses, compelled by love.” I used often to think, when I was a child, “Man, I should like to meet you, just for once; and then, if you refused me the marbles I should ask you for, or the whole of my name in chocolate letters, then I should consider you a liar.” But I never saw Van Alphen. I think he was already dead when he used to tell us that my father was my best friend—I thought far more of Pauweltje Winser, who lived next door to us—and that my little dog was so grateful for kindness! We never kept dogs, because they are dirty.  2
  That is the way children are brought up; and, later on, come other lies again. A girl is an angel! The man who was the first to discover that never had any sisters of his own. Love is bliss! One is going to fly, with one object or another, to the end of the earth. The earth has no ends; and, besides, love is madness. No one can say that I do not live happily with my wife. She is a daughter of Last & Co., coffee-brokers. I am a member of the most respectable club in Amsterdam. She has a shawl that cost ninety-two florins. And yet there was never any question between us of a foolish love like that, which insists on living at the very end of the earth! When we were married we made a little tour to The Hague; she bought some flannel there, and I am wearing undervests made of it to this day; but love never drove us out into the world any farther than that. Bah! it is all madness and lies!  3
  It is not verses alone that seduce the young into untruthfulness. Just go to the theater and listen to the falsehoods that are being spread abroad there. The hero of the play is pulled out of the water by some fellow on the point of going into the bankruptcy court. Then he gives the fellow half his fortune. Why, such a thing could not possibly happen! Not long ago, when my hat was blown into the Prinsengracht, I gave the man who brought it back to me four cents, and he was quite satisfied. Of course I know I should have had to give something more if it had been myself that he pulled out, but certainly not half what I possess. Why, it is quite clear that, on this principle, one need only fall into the water twice to be ruined! But the worst of it is, with such things represented on the stage, the public gets so accustomed to all these falsehoods that it thinks them fine, and applauds them. I should just like to throw a whole pitful of such people into the water, and see whose applause was sincere. I, who hold by the truth, warn every one that I am not going to pay so high a salvage for the fishing up of my person. Any one who is not satisfied with less may just let me stay where I am. On a Sunday, however, I should pay rather more, because then I wear my gold watch-chain and my best coat.  4
  Yes, the stage ruins many—still more than the novels. It looks so well! With a little gold tinsel and paper lace things can be made so attractive—for children, that is to say, and for people who are not in business. Even when they want to represent poverty on the stage, the picture given is always a false one. A girl, whose father has gone bankrupt, is working to keep the family. Very good. There she sits, then, sewing, knitting, or embroidering. But just count the stitches that she takes in the course of the whole scene. She talks, she sighs, she keeps running to the window, but she does not work. The family who can live on such work as this must have few wants indeed. Of course a girl like this is the heroine. She has thrown several villains down the stairs. She continually calls out, “Oh, mother! mother!” and thus represents virtue. What sort of virtue do you call that, that takes a year to finish a pair of woolen socks? Does not all this give people wrong ideas about virtue and working for their living?  5
  Then her first lover—he was formerly a clerk at the copying-book, but now a millionaire—suddenly comes back and marries her. Lies again. A man with money will never marry a girl from a house that has failed. And then, virtue rewarded! I have had plenty of experience in my time, but still it shocks me terribly when I see truth perverted in this way. Virtue rewarded! Isn’t it just like making a traffic out of virtue? It is not so in this world, and a very good thing it is that it is not. Where is the merit of being virtuous, if virtue is to be rewarded? Now, I am as virtuous as most people, but do I expect to be rewarded for it? If my business goes on well—which, in fact, it does; if my wife and children keep in health, so that I have no worry with the doctor and chemist; if, year by year, I can put away a little sum for my old age; if Fritz grows up a good man of business, so that he can step into my shoes when I retire and go to live at Driebergen—well, if all these things are so, I am quite content. But all that is a natural result of circumstances, and of my attention to business. I don’t ask any special reward for my virtue.  6
  That I am virtuous is quite evident from my love for truth. This, next to my attachment to our orthodox belief, is my ruling passion. And I should like the reader to be quite convinced of this, because it is my excuse for writing this book.  7
 
 
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