History of Holland
By George Edmundson

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Chapter XII: Letters, Science and Art

The epithet “glorious"–roemrijke–has been frequently applied by Dutch historians to the period of Frederick Henry–and deservedly. The preceding chapter has told that it was a time of wonderful maritime and colonial expansion, of commercial supremacy and material prosperity. But the spirit of the Holland, which reached its culminating point of national greatness in the middle of the 17th century, was far from being wholly occupied with voyages of adventure and conquest on far distant seas, or engrossed in sordid commercialism at home. The rapid acquisition of wealth by successful trade is dangerous to the moral health and stability alike of individuals and of societies; and the vices which follow in its train had, as we have already pointed out, infected to a certain extent the official and commercial classes in the Dutch republic at this epoch. There is, however, another side of the picture. The people of the United Provinces in their long struggle for existence, as a free and independent state, had had all the dormant energies and qualities of which their race was capable called into intense and many-sided activity, with the result that the quickening impulse, which had been sent thrilling through the veins, and which had made the pulses to throb with the stress of effort and the eagerness of hope, penetrated into every department of thought and life. When the treaty of Münster was signed, Holland had taken her place in the very front rank in the civilised world, as the home of letters, science and art, and was undoubtedly the most learned state in Europe.

In an age when Latin was the universal language of learning, it was this last fact which loomed largest in the eyes of contemporaries. The wars and persecutions which followed the Reformation made Holland the place of refuge of many of the most adventurous spirits, the choicest intellects and the most independent thinkers of the time. Flemings and Walloons, who fled from Alva and the Inquisition, Spanish and Portuguese Jews driven out by the fanaticism of Philip II, French Huguenots and German Calvinists, found within the borders of the United Provinces a country of adoption, where freedom of the press and freedom of opinion existed to a degree unknown elsewhere until quite modern times. The social condition of the country, the disappearance of a feudal nobility, and the growth of a large and well-to-do burgher aristocracy in whose hands the government of the republic really lay, had led to a widespread diffusion of education and culture. All travellers in 17th century Holland were struck by the evidences which met their eyes, in all places that they visited, of a general prosperity combined with great simplicity of life and quiet domesticity. Homely comfort was to be seen everywhere, but not even in the mansions of the merchant princes of Amsterdam was there any ostentatious display of wealth and luxury. Probably of no other people could it have been said that “amongst the Dutch it was unfashionable not to be a man of business[6].” And yet, in spite of this, there was none of that narrowness of outlook, which is generally associated with burgher-society immersed in trade. These men, be it remembered, were necessarily acquainted with many languages, for they had commercial relations with all parts of the world. The number too of those who had actually voyaged and travelled in far distant oceans, in every variety of climate, amidst every diversity of race, was very large; and their presence in their home circles and in social gatherings and all they had to tell of their experiences opened men’s minds, stirred their imaginations, and aroused an interest and a curiosity, which made even the stay-at-home Hollanders alert, receptive and eager for knowledge.

The act of William the Silent in founding the University of Leyden, as a memorial of the great deliverance of 1574, was prophetic of the future that was about to dawn upon the land, which, at the moment of its lowest fortunes, the successful defence of Leyden had done so much to save from utter disaster. For the reasons which have been already stated, scholars of renown driven by intolerance from their own countries found in the newly-founded Academy in Holland a home where they could pursue their literary work undisturbed, and gave to it a fame and celebrity which speedily attracted thousands of students not only from the Netherlands, but also from foreign lands. This was especially the case during the terrible time when Germany was devastated by the Thirty Years’ War. Among the scholars and philologists, who held chairs at Leyden during the first century of its existence, are included a long list of names of European renown. Justus Lipsius and Josephus Justus Scaliger may be justly reckoned among the founders of the science of critical scholarship. These were of foreign extraction, as was Salmasius, one of their successors, famous for his controversy with John Milton. But only less illustrious in the domain of philology and classical learning were the Netherlanders Gerardus Johannes Vossius (1577-1649) and his five sons, one of whom Isaac (1618-89) may be even said to have surpassed his father; Daniel Heinsius (1580-1665) and his son Nicolas (1620-1681), men of immense erudition and critical insight; and the brilliant Latinist Caspar Barlaeus (1584-1648). Of theologians and their bitter disputes posterity retains a less grateful remembrance. Gomarus and Arminius by their controversies were the authors of party strife and civil dissensions which led to the death of Oldenbarneveldt on the scaffold; and with them may be mentioned Episcopius, Voetius, Coecaeus, Bogerman and Uyttenbogaert. Not all these men had a direct connection with Leyden, for the success which attended the creation of the academy in that town quickly led to the erection of similar institutions elsewhere. Universities were founded at Franeker, 1584; Groningen, 1614; Amsterdam, 1632; Utrecht, 1636; and Harderwijk, 1646. These had not the same attraction as Leyden for foreigners, but they quickly became, one and all, centres for the diffusion of that high level of general culture which was the distinguishing mark of the 17th century Netherlands.

All the writers, whose names have just been mentioned, used Latin almost exclusively as their instrument of expression. But one name, the most renowned of them all, has been omitted, because through political circumstances he was compelled to spend the greater part of his life in banishment from his native land. Hugo Grotius (Huig van Groot), after his escape from the castle of Loevestein in 1621, though he remained through life a true patriot, never could be induced to accept a pardon, which implied an admission of guilt in himself or in Oldenbarneveldt. So the man, who was known to have been the actual writer of the Advocate’s Justification, continued to live in straitened circumstances at Paris, until Oxenstierna appointed him Swedish ambassador at the French court. This post he held for eleven years. Of his extraordinary ability, and of the variety and range of his knowledge, it is not possible to speak without seeming exaggeration. Grotius was in his own time styled “the wonder of the world"; he certainly stands intellectually as one of the very foremost men the Dutch race has produced. Scholar, jurist, theologian, philosopher, historian, poet, diplomatist, letter-writer, he excelled in almost every branch of knowledge and made himself a master of whatever subject he took in hand. For the student of International Law the treatise of Grotius, De Jure belli et pacis, still remains the text-book on which the later superstructure has been reared. His Mare liberum, written expressly to controvert the Portuguese claim of an exclusive right to trade and navigate in the Indian Ocean, excited much attention in Europe, and was taken by James I to be an attack on the oft-asserted dominium maris of the English crown in the narrow seas. It led the king to issue a proclamation forbidding foreigners to fish in British waters (May, 1609). Selden’s Mare clausum was a reply, written by the king’s command, to the Mare liberum. Of his strictly historical works the Annales et Historiae de Rebus Belgicis, for its impartiality and general accuracy no less than for its finished and lucid style, stands out as the best of all contemporary accounts from the Dutch side of the Revolt of the Netherlands. As a theologian Grotius occupied a high rank. His De Veritate Religionis Christianae and his Annotationes in Vetus et in Novum Testamentum are now out of date; but the De Veritate was in its day a most valuable piece of Christian apologetic and was quickly translated into many languages. The Annotationes have, ever since they were penned, been helpful to commentators on the Scriptures for their brilliancy and suggestiveness on many points of criticism and interpretation. His voluminous correspondence, diplomatic, literary, confidential, is rich in information bearing on the history and the life of his time. Several thousands of these letters have been collected and published.

But if the smouldering embers of bitter sectarian and party strife compelled the most brilliant of Holland’s own sons to spend the last twenty-three years of his life in a foreign capital and to enter the service of a foreign state, Holland was at the same time, as we have seen, gaining distinction by the presence within her hospitable boundaries of men of foreign extraction famous for their learning.

It was thus that both the Cartesian and Spinozan systems of philosophy had their birth-place on Dutch soil. Réné Descartes sought refuge from France at Amsterdam in 1629, and he resided at different places in the United Provinces, among them at the university towns of Utrecht, Franeker and Leyden, for twenty years. During this time he published most of his best known works, including the famous Discours de la méthode. His influence was great. He made many disciples, who openly or secretly became “Cartesians.” Among his pupils was Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) the apostle of pantheism. A Portuguese Jew by descent, Spinoza was born in Amsterdam and was a resident in his native city throughout life.

The fame of Holland in 17th century Europe as the chosen home of learning had thus been established by scholars and thinkers whose literary language was ordinarily Latin. It is now time to speak of the brilliant band of poets, dramatists and stylists, who cultivated the resources of their native tongue with such success as to make this great era truly the Golden Age of Dutch Literature properly so-called. The growth of a genuine national literature in the Netherlands, which had produced during the latter part of the 13th century a Maerlandt and a Melis Stoke, was for some considerable time checked and retarded by the influence of the Burgundian régime, where French, as the court language, was generally adopted by the upper classes. The Netherland or Low-German tongue thus became gradually debased and corrupted by the introduction of bastard words and foreign modes of expression. Nevertheless this period of linguistic degradation witnessed the uprise of a most remarkable institution for popularising “the Art of Poesy.” I refer to the literary gilds, bearing the name of “Chambers of Rhetoric," which, though of French origin, became rapidly acclimatised in the Netherlands. In well-nigh every town one or more of these “gilds” were established, delighting the people with their quaint pageantry and elaborate ritual, and forming centres of light and culture throughout the land. Rhyming, versifying, acting, became through their means the recreation of many thousands of shop-keepers, artisans and even peasants. And with all their faults of style and taste, their endless effusion of bad poetry, their feeble plays and rude farces, the mummery and buffoonery which were mingled even with their gravest efforts, the “Rhetoricians” effectually achieved the great and important work of attracting an entire people in an age of ignorance and of darkness towards a love of letters, and thereby broke the ground for the great revival of the 17th century. Amsterdam at one time possessed several of these Chambers of Rhetoric, but towards the end of the 16th century they had all disappeared, with one brilliant exception, that of the “Blossoming Eglantine,” otherwise known as the “Old Chamber.” Founded in 1518 under the special patronage of Charles V, the “Eglantine” weathered safely the perils and troubles of the Revolt, and passed in 1581 under the joint direction of a certain notable triumvirate, Coornheert, Spiegel and Visscher. These men banded themselves together “to raise, restore and enrich” their mother-tongue. But they were not merely literary purists and reformers; the “Eglantine” became in their hands and through their efforts the focus of new literary life and energy, and Amsterdam replaced fallen Antwerp as the home of Netherland culture.

The senior member of the triumvirate, Dirk Volkertz Coornheert, led a stormy and adventurous life. He was a devoted adherent of William the Silent and for a series of years, through good and ill-fortune, devoted himself with pen and person to the cause of his patron. As a poet he did not attain any very high flight, but he was a great pamphleteer, and, taking an active part in religious controversy, by his publications he drew upon himself a storm of opposition and in the end of persecution. He was, like his patron, a man of moderate and tolerant views, which in an age of religious bigotry brought upon him the hatred of all parties and the accusation of being a free-thinker. His stormy life ended in 1590. Hendrik Laurensz Spiegel (1549-1612) was a member of an old Amsterdam family. In every way a contrast to Coornheert, Spiegel was a Catholic. A prosperous citizen, simple, unostentatious and charitable, he spent the whole of his life in his native town, and being disqualified by his religion from holding public office he gave all his leisure to the cultivation of his mind and to literary pursuits. The work on which his fame chiefly rests was a didactic poem entitled the Hert-Spiegel. In his pleasant country house upon the banks of the Amstel, beneath a wide and spreading tree, which he was wont to call the “Temple of the Muses” he loved to gather a circle of literary friends, irrespective of differences of opinion or of faith, and with them to spend the afternoon in bright congenial converse on books and men and things. Roemer Visscher, the youngest member of the triumvirate, was like Spiegel an Amsterdammer, a Catholic and a well-to-do merchant. His poetical efforts did not attain a high standard, though his epigrams, which were both witty and quaint, won for him from his contemporaries the name of the “Second Martial.” Roemer Visscher’s fame does not, however, rest chiefly upon his writings. A man of great affability, learned, shrewd and humorous, he was exceedingly hospitable, and he was fortunate in having a wife of like tastes and daughters more gifted than himself. During the twenty years which preceded his death in 1620 his home was the chosen rendezvous of the best intelligence of the day. To the young he was ever ready to give encouragement and help; and struggling talent always found in him a kindly critic and a sympathising friend. He lived to see and to make the acquaintance of Brederôo, Vondel, Cats and Huyghens, the men whose names were to make the period of Frederick Henry the most illustrious in the annals of Dutch literature.

Gerbrand Adriansz Brederôo, strictly speaking, did not belong to that period. He died prematurely in 1618, a victim while still young to a wayward life of dissipation and disappointment. His comedies, written in the rude dialect of the fish-market and the street, are full of native humour and originality and give genuine glimpses of low life in old Amsterdam. His songs show that Brederôo had a real poetic gift. They reveal, beneath the rough and at times coarse and licentious exterior, a nature of fine susceptibilities and almost womanly tenderness. Joost van den Vondel was born in the same year as Brederôo, 1587, but his career was very different. Vondel survived till 1679, and during the whole of his long life his pen was never idle. His dramas and poems (in the edition of Van Lennep) fill twelve volumes. Such a vast production, as is inevitable, contains material of very unequal merit; but it is not too much to say that the highest flights of Vondel’s lyric poetry, alike in power of expression and imagery, in the variety of metre and the harmonious cadence of the verse, deserve a far wider appreciation than they have ever received, through the misfortune of having been written in a language little known and read. Vondel was the son of an Antwerp citizen compelled as a Protestant to fly from his native town after its capture by Parma. He took refuge at Cologne, where the poet was born, and afterwards settled at Amsterdam. In that town Vondel spent all his life, first as a shopkeeper, then as a clerk in the City Savings’ Bank. He was always a poor man; he never sought for the patronage of the great, but rather repelled it. His scathing attacks on those who had compassed the death of Oldenbarneveldt, and his adhesion to the Remonstrant cause brought him in early life into disfavour with the party in power, while later his conversion to Catholicism–in 1641–and his eager and zealous advocacy of its doctrines, were a perpetual bar to that public recognition of his talents which was his due. Vondel never at any time sacrificed his convictions to his interest, and he wrote poetry not from the desire of wealth or fame, but because he was a born poet and his mind found in verse the natural expression of its thought and emotions.

But, though Vondel was a poor man, he was not unlearned. On the contrary he was a diligent student of Greek and Latin literature, and translated many of the poetical masterpieces in those languages into Dutch verse. Indeed so close was his study that it marred much of his own work. Vondel wrote a great number of dramas, but his close imitation of the Greek model with its chorus, and his strict adherence to the unities, render them artificial in form and lacking in movement and life. This is emphasised by the fact that many of them are based on Scriptural themes, and by the monotony of the Alexandrine metre in which all the dialogues are written. It is in the choruses that the poetical genius of Vondel is specially displayed. Lyrical gems in every variety of metre are to be found in the Vondelian dramas, alike in his youthful efforts and in those of extreme old age. Of the dramas, the finest and the most famous is the Lucifer, 1654, which treats of the expulsion of Lucifer and his rebel host of angels from Heaven. We are here in the presence of a magnificent effort to deal grandiosely with a stupendous theme. The conception of the personality of Lucifer is of heroic proportions; and a comparison of dates renders it at least probable that this Dutch drama passed into John Milton’s hands, and that distinct traces of the impression it made upon him are to be found in certain passages of the Paradise Lost. Vondel also produced hundreds of occasional pieces, besides several lengthy religious and didactic poems. He even essayed an epic poem on Constantine the Great, but it was never completed. Of the occasional poems the finest are perhaps the triumph songs over the victories of Frederick Henry, and of the great admirals Tromp and De Ruyter.

Jacob Cats (1577-1660) lived, like Vondel, to a great age, but in very different circumstances. He was a native of Dordrecht and became pensionary of that town, and, though not distinguished as a statesman or politician, he was so much respected for his prudence and moderation that for twenty-two years he filled the important office of Council-Pensionary of Holland and was twice sent as an Envoy Extraordinary to England. He was a prolific writer and was undoubtedly the most popular and widely-read of the poets of his time. His works were to be found in every Dutch homestead, and he was familiarly known as “Father Cats.” His gifts were, however, of a very different order from those of Vondel. His long poems dealt chiefly with the events of domestic, every-day existence; and the language, simple, unpretentious and at times commonplace, was nevertheless not devoid of a certain restful charm. There are no high flights of imagination or of passion, but there are many passages as rich in quaint fancy as in wise maxims. With Constantine Huyghens (1596-1687) the writing of verse was but one of the many ways in which one of the most cultured, versatile, and busy men of his time found pleasant recreation in his leisure hours. The trusted secretary, friend and counsellor of three successive Princes of Orange, Huyghens in these capacities was enabled for many years to render great service to Frederick Henry, William II and William III, more especially perhaps to the last-named during the difficult and troubled period of his minority. Nevertheless all these cares and labours of the diplomatist, administrator, courtier and man of the world did not prevent him from following his natural bent for intellectual pursuits. He was a man of brilliant parts and of refined and artistic tastes. Acquainted with many languages and literatures, an accomplished musician and musical composer, a generous patron of letters and of art, his poetical efforts are eminently characteristic of the personality of the man. His volumes of short poems–Hofwijck, Cluijswerck, Voorhoutand Zeestraet–contain exquisite and witty pictures of life at the Hague–"the village of villages"–and are at once fastidious in form and pithy in expression.

It remains to speak of the man who may truly be described as the central figure among his literary contemporaries. Pieter Cornelisz Hooft (1583-1647) was indisputably the first man of letters of his time. He sprang from one of the first families of the burgher-aristocracy of Amsterdam, in which city his father, Cornelis Pietersz Hooft, filled the office of burgomaster no less than thirteen times. He began even as a boy to write poetry, and his strong bent to literature was deepened by a prolonged tour of more than three years in France, Germany and Italy, almost two years of which were spent at Florence and Venice. After his return he studied jurisprudence at Leyden, but when he was only twenty-six years old he received an appointment which was to mould and fix the whole of his future career. In 1609 Prince Maurice, in recognition of his father’s great services, nominated Hooft to the coveted post of Drost, or Governor, of Muiden and bailiff of Gooiland. This post involved magisterial and administrative duties of a by-no-means onerous kind; and the official residence of the Drost, the “High House of Muiden,” an embattled feudal castle with pleasant gardens, lying at the point where at no great distance from Amsterdam the river Vecht sleepily empties itself into the Zuyder Zee, became henceforth for thirty years a veritable home of letters.

Hooft’s literary life may be divided into two portions. In the decade after his settlement at Muiden, he was known as a dramatist and a writer of pretty love songs. His dramas–Geerard van Velzen, Warenar and Baeto–caught the popular taste and were frequently acted, but are not of high merit. His songs and sonnets are distinguished for their musical rhythm and airy lightness of touch, but they were mostly penned, as he himself tells us, for his own pleasure and that of his friends, not for general publication. There are, nevertheless, charming pieces in the collected edition of Hooft’s poems, and he was certainly an adept in the technicalities of metrical craft. But Hooft himself was ambitious of being remembered by posterity as a national historian. He aimed at giving such a narrative of the struggle against Spain as would entitle him to the name of “the Tacitus of the Netherlands.” He wished to produce no mere chronicle like those of Bor or Van Meteren, but a literary history in the Dutch tongue, whose style should be modelled on that of the great Roman writer, whose works Hooft is said to have read through fifty-two times. He first, to try his hand, wrote a life of Henry IV of France, which attained great success. Louis XIII was so pleased with it that he sent the author a gold chain and made him a Knight of St Michael. Thus encouraged, on August 19, 1628, Hooft began his Netherland Histories, and from this date until his death in 1647 he worked ceaselessly at the magnum opus, which, beginning with the abdication of Charles V, he intended to carry on until the conclusion of the Twelve Years’ Truce. He did not live to bring the narrative further than the end of the Leicester régime. In a small tower in the orchard at Muiden he kept his papers; and here, undisturbed, he spent all his leisure hours for nineteen years engaged on the great task, on which he concentrated all his energies. He himself tells us of the enormous pains that he took to get full and accurate information, collecting records, consulting archives and submitting every portion as it was written to the criticism of living authorities, more especially to Constantine Huyghens and through him to the Prince of Orange himself. Above all Hooft strove, to use his own words, “never to conceal the truth, even were it to the injury of the fatherland"; and the carrying-out of this principle has given to the great prose-epic that he wrote a permanent value apart altogether from its merits as a remarkable literary achievement. And yet perhaps the most valuable legacy that Hooft has left to posterity is his collection of letters. Of these a recent writer[7] has declared “that, though it could not be asserted that they [Hooft’s letters] threw into the shade the whole of the rest of Netherland literature, still the assertion would not be far beyond the mark.” They deal with every variety of subject, grave and gay; and they give us an insight into the literary, social and domestic life of the Holland of his time, which is of more value than any history.

In these letters we find life-like portraits of the scholars, poets, dramatists, musicians, singers, courtiers and travellers, who formed that brilliant society which received from their contemporaries the name of the “Muiden Circle"–Muidener Kring. The genial and hospitable Drost loved to see around him those “five or six couple of friends," whom he delighted to invite to Muiden. Hooft was twice married; and both his wives, Christina van Erp and Heleonore Hellemans, were charming and accomplished women, endowed with those social qualities which gave an added attractiveness to the Muiden gatherings. Brandt, Hooft’s biographer, describes Christina as “of surpassing capacity and intelligence, as beautiful, pleasing, affable, discreet, gentle and gracious, as such a man could desire to have"; while, of Heleonore, Hooft himself writes: “Within this house one ever finds sunshine, even when it rains without.”

This reference to the two hostesses of Muiden calls attention to one of the noteworthy features of social life in the Holland of this period–namely, the high level of education among women belonging to the upper burgher-class. Anna and Maria Tesselschade Visscher, and Anna Maria Schuurman may be taken as examples. Anna, the elder of the two daughters of Roemer Visscher (1584-1651), was brought up amidst cultured surroundings. For some years after her mother’s death she took her place as mistress of the house which until 1620 had been the hospitable rendezvous of the literary society of Amsterdam. She was herself a woman of wide erudition, and her fame as a poet was such as to win for her, according to the fashion of the day, the title of “the Dutch Sappho." Tesselschade, ten years younger than her sister and educated under her fostering care, was however destined to eclipse her, alike by her personal charms and her varied accomplishments. If one could believe all that is said in her praise by Hooft, Huyghens, Barlaeus, Brederôo, Vondel and Cats, she must indeed have been a very marvel of perfect womanhood. As a singer she was regarded as being without a rival; and her skill in painting, carving, etching on glass and tapestry work was much praised by her numerous admirers. Her poetical works, including her translation into Dutch verse of Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata, have almost all unfortunately perished, but a single ode that survives–"the Ode to a Nightingale"–is an effort not unworthy of Shelley and shows her possession of a true lyrical gift. At Muiden the presence of the “beautiful” Tesselschade was almost indispensable. “What feast would be complete,” wrote Hooft to her, “at which you were not present? Favour us then with your company if it be possible"; and again: “that you will come is my most earnest desire. If you will but be our guest, then, I hope, you will cure all our ills.” He speaks of her to Barlaeus as “the priestess"; and it is clear that at her shrine all the frequenters of Muiden were ready to burn the incense of adulation. Both Anna and Tesselschade, like their father, were devout Catholics.

Anna Maria van Schuurman (1607-84) was a woman of a different type. She does not seem to have loved or to have shone in society, but she was a very phenomenon of learning. She is credited with proficiency in painting, carving and other arts; but it is not on these, so to speak, accessory accomplishments that her fame rests, but on the extraordinary range and variety of her solid erudition. She was at once linguist, scholar, theologian, philosopher, scientist and astronomer. She was a remarkable linguist and had a thorough literary and scholarly knowledge of French, English, German, Italian, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, Chaldee, Arabic and Ethiopic. Her reputation became widespread; and, in the latter part of her long life, many strangers went to Utrecht, where she resided, to try to get a glimpse of so great a celebrity, which was not easy owing to her aversion to such visits.

Turning to the domain of mathematical and physical science and of scientific research and discovery, we find that here also the 17th century Netherlanders attained the highest distinction. As mathematicians Simon Stevin, the friend and instructor of Maurice of Orange, and Francis van Schooten, the Leyden Professor, who numbered among his pupils Christian Huyghens and John de Witt, did much excellent work in the earlier years of the century. The published writings of De Witt on “the properties of curves” and on “the theory of probabilities" show that the greatest of Dutch statesmen might have become famous as a mathematician had the cares of administration permitted him to pursue the abstract studies that he loved. Of the scientific achievements of Christian Huyghens (1629-95), the brilliant son of a brilliant father, it is difficult to speak in adequate terms. There is scarcely any name in the annals of science that stands higher than his. His abilities, as a pure mathematician, place him in the front rank among mathematicians of all time; and yet the services that he rendered to mathematical science were surpassed by his extraordinary capacity for the combination of theory with practice. His powers of invention, of broad generalisation, of originality of thought were almost unbounded. Among the mathematical problems with which he dealt successfully were the theory of numbers, the squaring of the circle and the calculation of chances. To him we owe the conception of the law of the conservation of energy, of the motion of the centre of gravity, and of the undulatory theory of light. He expounded the laws of the motion of the pendulum, increased the power of the telescope, invented the micrometer, discovered the rings and satellites of Saturn, constructed the first pendulum clock, and a machine, called the gunpowder machine, in principle the precursor of the steam engine. For sheer brain power and inventive genius Christian Huyghens was a giant. He spent the later years of his life in Paris, where he was one of the founders and original members of the Académie des Sciences. Two other names of scientists, who gained a European reputation for original research and permanent additions to knowledge, must be mentioned; those of Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723), and of Jan Swammerdam (1637-80). Leeuwenhoek was a life-long observer of minute life. The microscope (the invention of which was due to a Dutchman, Cornelius Drebbel) was the favourite instrument of his patient investigations, and he was able greatly to improve its mechanism and powers. Among the results of his labours was the discovery of the infusoria, and the collection of a valuable mass of information concerning the circulation of the blood and the structure of the eye and brain. Swammerdam was a naturalist who devoted himself to the study of the habits and the metamorphoses of insects, and he may be regarded as the founder of this most important branch of scientific enquiry. His work forms the basis on which all subsequent knowledge on this subject has been built up.

To say that the school of Dutch painting attained its zenith in the period of Frederick Henry and the decades which preceded and followed it, is scarcely necessary. It was the age of Rembrandt. The works of that great master and of his contemporaries, most of whom were influenced and many dominated by his genius, are well known to every lover of art, and are to be seen in every collection of pictures in Europe. One has, however, to visit the Rijks Museum at Amsterdam and the Mauritshuis at the Hague to appreciate what an extraordinary outburst of artistic skill and talent had at this time its birth within the narrow limits of the northern Netherlands. To the student of Dutch history these two galleries are a revelation, for there we see 17th century Holland portrayed before us in every phase of its busy and prosperous public, social and domestic life. Particularly is this the case with the portraits of individuals and of civic and gild groups by Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Van der Helst and their followers, which form an inimitable series that has rarely been equalled. To realise to what an extent in the midst of war the fine arts flourished in Holland, a mere list of the best-known painters of the period will suffice, it tells its own tale. They are given in the order of their dates: Frans Hals (1584-1666), Gerard Honthorst (1592-1662), Jan van Goyen (1596-1656), Jan Wyvants (1600-87), Albert Cuyp (1606-72), Jan Lievens (1607-63), Rembrandt van Rhyn (1608-69), Gerard Terburg (1608-81), Adrian Brouwer (1608-41), Ferdinand Bol (1609-81), Salomon Koning (1609-74), Andreas Both (1609-60), Jan Both (1610-62), Adrian van Ostade (1610-85), Bartolomaus van der Helst (1613-70), Gerard Douw (1613-80), Gabriel Metzu (1615-58), Govaert Flinck (1615-60), Isaac van Ostade (1617-71), Aart van der Neer (1619-83), Pieter de Koningh (1619-89), Philip Wouvermans (1620-68), Pieter van der Hoogh (?), Nicolas Berchem (1624-83), Paul Potter (1625-54), Jacob Ruysdael (1625-81), Meindert Hobbema (?), Jan Steen (1626-79), Samuel van Hoogstraeten (1627-78), Ludolf Backhuizen (1631-1709), Jan van der Meer of Delft (1632-?), Nicholas Maes (1632-93), William van der Velde (1633-1707), Frans van Mieris (1635-81), Caspar Netscher (1639-84), Adrian van der Velde (1639-72).

It is strange that little is known of the lives of the great majority of these men; they are scarcely more than names, but their memory survives in their works. No better proof could be brought of the general abundance of money and at the same time of the widespread culture of the land than the fact that art found among all classes so many patrons. The aristocratic burgher-magistrates and the rich merchants loved to adorn their houses with portraits and a choice selection of pictures; it was a favourite investment of capital, and there was a certain amount of rivalry among the principal families in a town like Amsterdam in being possessed of a fine collection. The “Six” collection still remains as an example upon the walls of the 17th century house of Burgomaster Six, where it was originally placed. The governing bodies of gilds and boards, members of corporations, the officers of the town schutterijor of archer companies delighted to have their portraits hung around their council chambers or halls of assembly. In the well-to-do farmer-homesteads and even in the dwellings of the poorer classes pictures were to be found, as one may see in a large number of the “interiors” which were the favourite subject of the genre painters of the day. But with all this demand the artists themselves do not seem to have in any case been highly paid. The prices were low. Even Rembrandt himself, whose gains were probably much larger than those of any of his contemporaries, and whose first wife, Saskia Uilenburg, was a woman of means, became bankrupt in 1656, and this at a time when he was still in his prime, and his powers at their height. Some of his most famous pictures were produced at a later date.

During the Thirty Years’ War Holland became the centre of the publishing and book-selling trade; and Leyden and Amsterdam were famed as the foremost seats of printing in Europe. The devastation of Germany and the freedom of the press in the United Provinces combined to bring about this result. The books produced by the Elseviers at Leyden and by Van Waesberg and Cloppenburch at Amsterdam are justly regarded as fine specimens of the printer’s art, while the maps of Willem Jansz Blaeu and his Dutch contemporaries were quite unrivalled, and marked a great step forward in cartography.

This chapter must not conclude without a reference to the part taken by the Netherlanders in the development of modern music and the modern stage. The love of music was widespread; and the musicians of the Netherlands were famed alike as composers and executants. It was from its earlier home in the Low Countries that the art of modern music spread into Italy and Germany and indeed into all Europe. Similarly in the late Middle Ages the people of the Netherlands were noted for their delight in scenic representations and for the picturesque splendour with which they were carried out. The literary gilds, named Chambers of Rhetoric, never took such deep root elsewhere; and in the performance of Mystery Plays and Moralities and of lighter comic pieces (chuttementenand cluyten) many thousands of tradespeople and artisans took part. In the 17th century all the Chambers of Rhetoric had disappeared with the single exception of the famous “Old Chamber” at Amsterdam, known as The Blossoming Eglantine, to which the leading spirits of the Golden Age of Dutch Literature belonged and which presided over the birth of the Dutch Stage. From the first the stage was popular and well-supported; and the new theatre of Amsterdam, the Schouburg (completed in 1637), became speedily renowned for the completeness of its arrangements and the ability of its actors. Such indeed was their reputation that travelling companies of Dutch players visited the chief cities of Germany, Austria and Denmark, finding everywhere a ready welcome and reaping a rich reward, whilst at Stockholm for a time a permanent Dutch theatre was established.


General Preface  •  Prologue  •  Chapter I: The Burgundian Netherlands  •  Chapter II: Habsburg Rule in the Netherlands  •  Chapter III  •  Chapter IV: The Revolt of the Netherlands  •  Chapter V: William the Silent  •  Chapter VI: The Beginnings of the Dutch Republic  •  Chapter VII: The System of Government  •  Chapter VIII: The Twelve Years’ Truce  •  Chapter IX: Maurice and Oldenbarneveldt  •  Chapter X: From the End of the Twelve Years’ Truce to the Peace of Muenster  •  Chapter XI  •  Chapter XII: Letters, Science and Art  •  Chapter XIII: The Stadholderate of William II.  •  Chapter XIV  •  Chapter XV  •  Chapter XVI  •  Chapter XVII  •  Chapter XVIII  •  Chapter XIX  •  Chapter XX: The War of the Spanish Succession and the Treaties of Utrecht, 1702-1715  •  Chapter XXI: The Stadholderless Republic, 1715-1740  •  Chapter XXII: The Austrian Succession War. William Iv, 1740-1751  •  Chapter XXIII: The Regency of Anne and of Brunswick.  •  Chapter XXIV  •  Chapter XXV: Stadholderate of William V, continued, 1780-1788  •  Chapter XXVI: The Orange Restoration. Downfall of the Republic, 1788-1795  •  Chapter XXVII: The Batavian Republic, 1795-1806  •  Chapter XXVIII: The Kingdom of Holland and the French Annexation, 1806-1814  •  Chapter XXIX: The Formation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, 1814-1815  •  Chapter XXX: The Kingdom of the Netherlands–union of Holland and Belgium, 1815-1830  •  Chapter XXXI: The Belgian Revolution, 1830-1842  •  Chapter XXXII: William II. Revision of the Constitution.  •  Chapter XXXIII: Reign of William III to the Death of Thorbecke, 1849-1872  •  Chapter XXXIV: The Later Reign of William III, and the Regency Of Queen Emma, 1872-1898  •  Chapter XXXV: The Reign of Queen Wilhelmina, 1898-1917  •  Epilogue  •  Footnotes

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History of Holland, (Cambridge historical series)
By George Edmundson
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