Historically Speaking

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Archive for September 23rd, 2011

Dutchman’s Draught

Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 23, 2011

When someone talks about a Dutchman’s draught, it’s just one of the many allusions to the reputed fondness for heavy drinking among the Dutch.  Idiomation is unaware of any studies to support the stereotype that the Dutch drink more than any other cultural group however the history between the English and the Dutch is well-documented and so stereotypes are bound to endure.

In fact, back in 1665 there was a British pamphlet entitled “The Dutch Boare Dissected” that was filled with what would be considered hate speech in today’s society.  Most of the English idioms negatively referring to the Dutch first appear around this era.  The sentiment continued in a number of literary works including John Arbuthnot’s 1712 story, “The History of John Bull.”  It took until the 18th century for the French to replace the Dutch as the bull’s-eye of English insults, once the French had established themselves as a major naval adversary of the British.

On May 9, 1880 the New York Times published a news story entitled, “The Dutch And Their Land: Holland Through A Telescope.”  The date line reads Utrecht, April 23 and the reporter dedicates the entire story to extolling the virtues of Holland and the people who call the country home.  The reporter writes in part:

The area of their possessions amounts to 660,000 square miles, and the population to 23,500,000 souls.  The towers of Amsterdam, which we see through the sacristan’s telescope, common views of Zuyder Zee, which furnishes the ballad-monger with the similie as to a Hollander’s capacity for drinking:

“Singing, O, that a Dutchman’s draught might be
 As deep as the rolling Zuider Zee.”

In the January 29, 1870 edition of Punch’s Almanack, in the column “More Happy Thoughts” the following is found:

German, English and French is being spoken freely; English, I think, predominating. There are three languages that puzzle me; I subsequently find they are Russian, Dutch and Greek.  The Dutch I always though was a rolling sort of tongue, so to speak; but, on reflection, I fancy this idea was mainly founded upon the remembrance of having heard, “Oh, that a Dutchman’s draught should be,” by a bass singer, late at night, years ago.

The Examiner was promoted as “A Sunday Paper on Politics, Domestic Economy and Theatricals.”  In the edition published on January 1, 1826 the paper referenced the expression on page 357 in the theatrical column, where readers can find this passage:

The music being chiefly selection, requires little notice; it wanted what Wzaza has recently taught us to look for in operas, — we mean sounds in ideal association with the story.  Miss Stephens was once encored; and the old glee of the “Dutchman’s Draught” with new words, was well sung by Yarnold, Nicol and G. Smith, and also loudly encored.

The song “Dutchman’s Draught” appeared in a play in three acts entitled, “The Law Of Java” which was first performed at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden on May 11, 1822.  Act I begins with Dutch soldiers singing:

Mynheer Vandunck, though he was never drunk
Sipp’d Brandy and Water, gaily;
And he quench’d his thirst
With two arts of the first
To a pint of the latter daily;
Singing, “Oh, that a Dutchman’s Draught could be
As deep as the rolling Zuyder-Zee!”

Water well mingled with spirit, good store
No Hollander dreams of scorning;
But, of water alone, he drinks no more
Than a rose supplies when a dew-drop lies
On its bloom, in a summer morning;
For a Dutchman’s Draught should potent be,
Though deep as the rolling Zuyder-Zee.

Now English playwright, George Colman the Younger (1762 — 1836) was educated at Westminster School, Oxford and Aberdeen and he is the composer of “Mynheer Van Dunck” which starts off the play “The Law of Java.” It was a popular singing song that is found in numerous song books over the years including John McClure‘s “The Stag’s Hornbook” published in 1925 that listed the song as one of the 40 classics.

That the expression Dutchman’s draught was used easily in a song in a play back in 1822 indicates that the audience was familiar with the expression which dates it to somewhere in the mid 1700s.  And because it’s a fact that most negative idioms about the Dutch sprung up after 1665, the expression dates to somewhere between 1665 and 1750.

Idiomation was unable to establish an exact date for the expression Dutchman’s draught.  At the very least, however, it’s an expression of the 18th century and quite possible of the 17th century.

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