The Spurgeon Family of Dutch Descent—Driven from Holland by Persecution—Philip II. and the Duke of Alva—William the Silent and the Heroic Age—The Siege of Leyden—Interest felt by Mr. Spurgeon in the Country—His Preaching Tour in Holland in 1863—Dutch Characteristics—Tastes of Mr. Spurgeon—His Sympathy with Netherlanders—Job Spurgeon the Quaker.
That the earliest known representatives of Mr. Spurgeon's family were of Dutch extraction is an interesting fact; but none the less on that account the great preacher was an Englishman, who loved his country, and was content in the most unselfish manner to devote his best energies to its welfare. Before his death he had become generally regarded as one who was a servant of the Universal Church and a citizen of the world; but while he commanded the respect of all nationalities, probably it was the English-speaking race alone who could perfectly understand him. Foreigners who had to make their acquaintance with the man through a translation could never fully realise the best qualities of his discourses in their original dress.
Rather more than two centuries and a half before the subject of this work was born, his Protestant ancestors appear to have been driven from their ancient home in the Netherlands by the persecution, on a wholesale scale, which broke out under the hateful rule of Philip II. That fanatical despot had less of political sagacity than his father, Charles V.; and in the end it turned out to be a misfortune rather than an advantage for such a misguided tyrant to be served by able men whose bigotry and general sympathies were in unison with his own ignoble aims. These were the tools who enabled Philip to ruin his empire, as well as to throw away his great opportunities of conferring lasting benefit on the Spanish race and the Spanish dependencies. The Spanish monarch probably had some share in instigating the burning of the Smithfield martyrs under the reign of his wife, our own Queen Mary; but if this too zealous Romanist injured England in this respect, he unintentionally conferred benefit upon our land when he drove away the flower of his own people to seek refuge on our shores. The Spurgeons, with a large number of others who crossed the sea in order to escape death at the hands of Ferdinando Alvarez, Duke of Alva, were the cream of the Protestant population. The Spanish general, who at the head of twenty thousand mercenary troops entered the Low Countries in the year 1567, was a man quite after the heart of Philip II., and he carried out the persecuting policy with alacrity and vigour.
Soon after the death of his English wife and the accession of her Protestant successor, the great Queen Elizabeth, Philip saw that certain symptoms of discontent began to show themselves in his Flemish provinces. Those provinces were rich; they were increasing in wealth. The Reformation had already so far made way among them that numbers of the people, of whom the Spurgeons were but a sample, were sufficiently enlightened to be ready, if need arose, to make sacrifices for their religion. Such subjects did not commend themselves to the phlegmatic mind of Philip II., however. To him the maintenance of Romanism and the Inquisition was of the first importance, and because the inhabitants of the Low Countries were beginning to hold other views on such matters, he treated them in a way which was in strong contrast to his father's benignant policy towards them. At a council held in Spain, the Duke of Feria advised that mild measures should be adopted; the Duke of Alva, on the other hand, declared that severity alone would answer the purpose they had in view, and it was to this Ahithophel that the King yielded. The advice was in accord with his own cruel nature; and the King's admiration of Alva prompted him to allow to that able general almost unlimited power. What happened all readers of history know sufficiently well. In a little over five years 18,000 persons were executed, including the two patriots, Egmont and Horn, while about 30,000 fugitives made their escape to other lands, carrying with them their arts and industries.
That was the heroic age in the history of Holland, and William the Silent, the ancestor of our own William III., or Prince of Orange, was the hero of the time. One of the most memorable events was the siege of Leyden by the Duke of Parma in 1573-74, the story of which has been thus succinctly told in the "Treasury of Geography":—
"For a period of seven weeks there was no bread within the city; horses, cats, dogs, with roots of all kinds, were eagerly devoured, but the heroic example of the burgomaster, Pieter Adrianzoon van der Werff, who offered his own body to such as were clamorous for surrender, encouraged his fellow-citizens to hold out. Unable to muster an adequate force for the relief of the place, the Prince of Orange at length formed the desperate resolve of breaking down the dykes of the adjacent coast and admitting the ocean. It was some little time before the full effect was produced; at length, impelled by a violent wind, the sea rushed in, overwhelmed the works of the besiegers, and forced them to a precipitate flight, leaving above a thousand of their number drowned. A fleet of boats, prepared for the expected relief of the beleaguered place, immediately advanced from Rotterdam over the newly-formed expanse of water, and triumphantly reached the walls of the city. The Prince of Orange, in token of gratitude for the heroism which the, defenders of Leyden had shown, gave them the option of two rewards—relief from certain taxes or the foundation of a university. The citizens, to their lasting honour, preferred the latter, and thus was formed an institution which rapidly became among the most eminent in Europe, and which still preserves a large measure of its fame. The traditions of Holland are heroic, if its plains be flat and unromantic and its people of phlegmatic temperament and calculating spirit."
Mr. Spurgeon never ceased to feel interest in Holland, and it yielded him satisfaction to know that his sermons and other works were extensively circulated in the Dutch language. In the early days of 1863 the English preacher visited the chief towns of the Netherlands; and it was while making that tour that he was honoured with an interview by the then reigning Queen. At such a time the stirring memories of the sixteenth century would come into his mind: he would think of his own kinsfolk, who escaped with their lives, and of those who remained behind to lay the foundation of a great country, and in many instances to pour out their blood in its behalf.
Although he dwells in quite an unromantic country, a chief characteristic of the middle-class Hollander is a love of gardening; and this is a taste which is likely to show itself in successive generations of descendants, even though they may have become associated with the dwellers in another land. That this love of trees, shrubs, and flowers was a characteristic of Mr. Spurgeon was evident to all who were acquainted with his habits. He loved his garden, because it never failed to afford refreshment to his mind when over-wearied with work and care; and choice plants, which friends would sometimes send him from distant lands, were treasured in his glass-houses as carefully as a connoisseur would preserve valuable specimens or works of art. He loved the open air; but from his study he could walk into what might have been called his inner garden, enclosed in glass.
All this is quite in accord with the tastes of the Hollanders at the present day. "Every Dutchman above the necessity of working to-day for the bread of to-morrow has his garden-house in the suburbs of his town, and repairs to it on Saturday evening with his family, to ruralise until Monday over his pipe of tobacco," says Mr. S. Laing, in his "Notes of a Traveller." The same writer adds: "The slip of land is laid out in flower-beds, all the flowers in one bed being generally of one kind and colour; and the brilliancy of these large masses of flowers—the white and green paintwork, and the gilding about the garden-houses—and a row of those glittering fairy summer lodges, shining in the sun, upon the side of the wide canal, and swimming in humid brilliancy in the midst of plots and parterres of splendid flowers; and with the accompaniments of gaily-dressed ladies at the windows, swiftly-passing pleasure-boats, with bright, burnished sides below, and a whole city population afloat, or on foot, enjoying themselves in their holiday clothes—form, in truth, a summer evening scene which one dwells on with much delight."
Such is Holland to-day after generations of progress, and such are the heroic memories associated with the struggle for liberty in the sixteenth century. It is an additional distinction for such a country to have been the original home of the Spurgeon family. Whenever Mr. Spurgeon met a Hollander, especially one who was interested in the extension of religion in the country, the English pastor always at once felt that there was something of kinship which bound them together in sympathy.
The Spurgeon family thus had trouble enough in the era of the Reformation, and they continued to be sufferers in the days of the Puritans a century later. Mention is made of a Job Spurgeon who was imprisoned during the reign of Charles II. This Job Spurgeon is mentioned twice in Besse's "Sufferings" in the following manner:—
"Anno 1677.—Taken for a meeting at Dedham, from Samuel Groom, at whose house it was held, from Job Spurgeon, and others, goods worth £16 15 6."
"Anno 1683.—On the 22nd of the month called July, with three others, Job Spurgeon, of Dedham was committed by warrant to Chelmsford Gaol. They were, after a few weeks, bailed out till sessions, but on their appearance there on the 3rd of October they were required to give sureties for their good behaviour, which, refusing to do, they were recommitted to prison, where three of them lay upon straw about fifteen weeks in the midst of a winter remarkable for extremity of cold; but the fourth, Job Spurgeon, being so weak that he was unable to lie down, sat up in a chair the most part of that time."