Courtyards and back house

10 Small courtyard (kleijne plaatsje)

This courtyard, like the back kitchen, belonged to the house on the Nieuwstraat until 1708, when Leeuwenhoek and Carl Serval purchased it. Serval took the front part and Leeuwenhoek took the kitchen and this small courtyard, about the size of a closet.

Josina van der Sprenkel, Marie's long-time maid, kept some housecleaning tools in this courtyard.

Making Maria's inventory, the notaries listed the household goods that they found in this courtyard on page 31v (right; click to enlarge).

1 large broom (lang varken) ??

1 hand-held brush (stofvarken)

2 wooden boxes (houtebakken)

1 flat basket (benne), 2 scrub brushes (luijwagens)

A white fan (wit quast) (for personal cooling or chasing insects)

Some junk (rommelingen)

11 Front courtyard (voorste plaats)

When the notaries stood in this courtyard, they saw only some ladders, perhaps for washing the windows or reaching the roof to clean the gutters, along with a broom and some junk.

If Leeuwenhoek had been making that inventory, he would have noted everything the notaries missed. He spent a lot of time in his courtyard. He probably entertained visitors there. He planted things that he wanted to study, vines and trees, so he often called it his garden. He collected insects, spiders and ants, to put behind his lens. Some of his tool-making and experiments involved fire and loud noises, which would have been more tolerable outdoors. The cistern collecting rain and gutter run-off was buried in this courtyard, perhaps in one of the corners closer to the main house.

Of course, it also had the cesspit, or at least access to it under the privy. The water of the canal at the Hypolitusbuurt was rather clean, because in this richer area of town, the privies were connected to a cesspit. It had to be emptied periodically. Because there was no alley, the maid would carry it through the house to a boat in the gracht.

Leeuwenhoek described the well in Letter 18 of 1676-10-09 (AB 26) to Henry Oldenburg.

In the open court-yard of my house I have a well, which is about 15 feet deep, before one comes to the water. It is exposed to the South and encompassed with high walls, so that the Sun, though in Cancer, yet can hardly shine much upon its top. This water comes out of the ground, which is sandy, with such a power, that when I have laboured to empty the well, I could not so do it but there remained ever a foot's depth of water in it. This water is in Summer time so cold, that you cannot possibly endure your hand in it for any reasonable time.

Not thinking at all to meet with any living creatures in it, (it being of a good taste and clear) looking upon it in Sept. of the last year, I discover'd in it a great number of living animals very small, that were exceeding clear, and a little bigger than the smallest of all that I ever saw; and I think, that in an ‘ace’ weight of this water there was above 500 of those creatures, which were very quiet and moved without any jerks.

According to the footnote in Alle de Brieven / Collected Letters (vol. 1, p. 276), the well would have been up to 16 meters deep in sand.

Letter 10 of 1675-02-11 (AB 16) to Henry Oldenburg indicates that the well was capped by a pump.

The Spanish soap aforesaid was put into our pump-water (coming from under the sand of our wells). This water is always somewhat brackish or salty.

Letter of 1676-01-22 (AB 20) to Henry Oldenburg mentions the cistern.

I detected living creatures in water, that is ordinary rainwater that is collected from the roofs in stone basins or barrels, as well as in well-water that comes up in the sand, and in the gracht water that runs through this town and through the country.

Letter 18 of 1676-10-09 (AB 26) to Henry Oldenburg mentions the garden several times, first in Observ. II on Rain-water.

The 26. May, it rained very hard. The rain growing somewhat less, I caused some of that Rain-water, running down from a slated roof, to be gather'd in a clean Glass, after it had been washed two or three times with the water. And in this I observ' d some few very little living creatures, and seeing them, I thought they might have been produced in the leaden-gutters in some water, that had there remain'd before.

Letter 30 of 1680-04-05 (AB 57) to Robert Hooke mentions the vines that Leeuwenhoek had planted in his garden.

In the court-yard of my house there are two vines and observing their growth to be such that a moisture dripped from their shoots, I examined this sap several times in succession, merely to discover living creatures in it. Most times I saw several sorts of living little animals in it, varying in size, nay, even little animals that I had observed before in divers sorts of water.

Letter 31 of 1680-05-13 (AB 60) to Thomas Gale followed up on Leeuwenhoek's observations of these vines.

About 24 hours after I had dispatched my observations to Mr. Hooke, the vine-branches in my court-yard dripped no longer and the weather had become uncommonly warm, so that the vine-branches and the leathern tags as well were quite dry. After this it rained nearly the whole night, but in the morning the sun shone and in the afternoon there was once more rain. Seeing that the leathern tags were again wet through, I examined the water on these tags (with which the vine-branches, as remarked above, were nailed to the wall) and saw in it several little animals of the biggest sort, previously seen in the aforesaid sap, and I saw some of a smaller sort, lying dead.

After this time, about the middle of April, it rained a whole day and the night following, and the next morning when the sun shone I went into my garden and examined the sap dripping from a vinebranch which I had cut a few days before in order to make it drip, tying a strip of chamois to it or twining it around it, so that when it rained, the rain-water would be retained in it, and not easily dry up, and thus get better mixed with the above-mentioned dripping sap.

In this water, I discovered a few little animals of the sort described above. I also examined the sap from a second vine, which I had treated in the same way, and in this also discovered the little animals. I also went to a third vine, from which I had also previously cut off a branch, but had not tied round with chamois.

Letter 57 of 1687-08-06 (AB 102) to the members of the Royal Society related how he studied the ants in his garden.

When, the other day, I stirred up an Ant-hill in my Garden, and there observed not only that one Ant's egg much exceeded another in size; but even that some Ants were still quite white, and appeared to lie quit motionless until they had come to their full size, I came to different thoughts as some other people have had, up to the present, about Ants.

A month later, in Letter 58 of 1687-09-09 (AB 103) to the members of the Royal Society, he followed up on his observations of the ants.

After this I again searched the red-Ants' Nests in my garden, and again found therein the Ants, with their Eggs, Ant-worms, and pupae, in as great numbers as heretofore.

Letter 59 of 1687-10-17 (AB 104) to the members of the Royal Society

Many houses in our City are fitted with stone cisterns underground, into which the rain-water that falls on the roofs of the houses, is conducted by leaden gutters. I took some of this water (last year), and put finely ground pepper in it, and then poured this water into a glass tube, and in it I discovered little live animals. ...

But when I was busy in my garden, cutting few of the early asparagus, I happened to touch, between the fingers of the hand, a very small Nettle39), which caused me uncommon pain and swelling. This made me examine, once again, the Nettles through the microscope.

Letter 64 of 1688-08-24 (AB 109) to the members of the Royal Society

To save labouring in vain, I went, in the month of April 1686, to the garden of a Horticulturist whose principal work is the cultivation of Trees. And from among his Lime-trees I bought two wellgrowing Trees, which were five years old, and ordered at what time he was to deliver them to my house, towards which time I had also summoned my Gardener, in order that the Trees should not remain out of the earth too long, and that the small roots, which carry most of the nourishment to the Trees, should not dry up.

I got the Gardener to dig a hole for each Tree, to put the roots in, and made him plant the trunks of the Trees so close to the earth that they came to lie not more than two inches from the earth.

The roots thus being in the earth, I had a hole dug for each Tree, at the place where the branches had grown from the trunk; of these branches I had a part, bent crooked, laid about three-quarters of a foot deep into the earth, letting the tops of the branches, as much as it was possible, come out straight of the earth, and had them tied up. My only intention in this was to ensure that roots should grow out of the branches lying in the earth during the first or second year.

The branches that stuck above the earth grew only little during the first year, from which I concluded that the branches, in so far as they lay in the earth, had also made only few roots, and after this I resolved to let both trees stand until the second year. By then, the branches had budded out quite well. I then dug out a few of the branches, and I found that they were very well rooted, after which, in the beginning of the month of April 1688, I dug the roots of one of the Trees out of the earth. I placed them obliquely upright and cut off all the small roots, and I let the thick shoots of the roots remain on the root.

Brief No. 213 [133] 16 Juni 1700 Gericht aan: Een Hoog Geleerde Heer.

During this [1673] research on the stings, and also several years afterwards, I caught many bees in my garden and dissected them in order to discover, if possible, some eggs in their bodies,

Letter No. 233 [144] 9 February 1702 Addressed to: HENDRIK VAN BLEYSWIJK

To gain a better comprehension of this, I took a glass tube with a thickness somewhat greater than that of a swan's quill, in which I had put a little of the said dry substance from the leaden gutter and on which I had poured rain-water from my cistern, and I handed the draughtsman the glass tube, on which a magnifying glass was mounted, in order that he might draw such an animalcule as best he could.

From these discoveries we may understand indeed that in all falling rain-water which is conducted through gutters into cisterns animalcules are to be found

Letter No. 236 [146] 20 April 1702 Addressed to: KARL, LANDGRAVE OF HESSEN-KASSEL.

Now last summer three to four hundred silkworms, which were already two to three weeks old, were reared further in my house, the more so as we have two mulberry trees. ...

After having committed to paper my thoughts and investigations so far, I saw that in the house adjacent to mine, where silkworms had also been reared, already on the 28th of August young silkworms had emerged from the eggs, although the silkworms in my house had started spinning at an earlier moment and eggs had also emerged earlier from the moths.

I considered that this might be due to the fact that their house was warmer because it was a corner house and stood with its front facing Northeast, so that the sun shone on it in the morning and a large part of the afternoon. But what shall we say about this if we see that although around that time we carried eggs of the silkworms on our person by day for ten and more days, no young silkworms emerged from them43.


Making Maria's inventory, the notaries listed household goods in the front courtyard on page 31v (right; click to enlarge).

2 ladders

1 long broom (langestok) ??

some pots, pans, and junk

12 Back house (achterhuis)

Shed and space for a privy. The privy was situated close by a cesspit in the courtyard

Elisabeth de Bievre, Dutch Art and Urban Cultures 1200-1700; Yale University Press

The point of public cleanliness is particularly worth stressing, as it is a reminder that many of the characteristics now generalized as 'national' and Dutch were in fact originally identified as distinctly 'local' and associated with one city, in this case that of Delft. Thus the much quoted adage about the Dutch scrubbing their streets derives from statements about Delft, where 'the streets were constructed in such a way, that they were washed the rain' so that they were 'usually as clean as in other countries the interiors in the houses'. In 1615. (van Bleyswijck 1667; quote van Braun en Hagenberg).

Jean Le Petit, Nederlandsche Republijck, 1615 (my translation):

Nobody was allowed to throw refuse out of their house into the streets, but that it had to be taken to expressly made containers near the canals, which when full were emptied into specially equipped boats or barges.

Soutendam 1870, Keuren

Such cleanliness was fostered by the city's byelaws. Every house had to have a privy on the property, so that the waste would not enter the Delft, the streets or the ring canal. The streets had to be swept in the direction of a special gutter.

Making Maria's inventory, the notaries listed household goods and paintings on pages 32 (right; click to enlarge).  The notaries found only three things there during their inventory:

A screen or partition (schutje)

A pair of bellows (blaasbalk)

A matchstick box (swavelstokbak)

According to Sewel's dictionary, a zwavelstok is a "match made of a hemp-stalk, or of a wooden chip".