Low Countries to his son-in-law Albert, Arch-Duke of Austria, this made hardly any difference to the situation, either in the South or in the North. The South was just as dependent as it had been before, and so it was to remain for more than two centuries. The North ignored Albert as it had done Philip. In those years the North gradually developed into an independent republic, the first modern republic in Europe, which was such a novelty that visitors from far and wide came to see how it worked.
Nor should the term Golden Age be taken to imply a period of peace and quiet. On the contrary, the seventeenth century was a period remarkable for its wars and unrest. The war with Spain went on until 1609 when a truce was signed. This truce, a great political triumph for the young republic, lasted for 12 years, but those twelve years were not peaceful years either. During the truce the country seemed to explode from within and at one stage came dangerously close to civil war over issues of internal politics and religion. The trial and execution of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, one of the ablest Dutch statesmen and architect of the truce, is an indication of the seriousness and the bitterness of the conflict. In 1621 the truce expired and war was resumed. The Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 finally brought this war to a conclusion. It had then lasted for eighty years. After 1648 the Republic came into conflict with several other European countries and the war-list is impressive, particularly for a period that has become known as a Golden Age: between 1652 and 1654 the first of a series of Anglo-Dutch sea-wars was fought; in 1658 the Republic intervened in the conflict between Sweden and Denmark; between 1665 and 1667 the second war with England took place, while on land the Dutch were locked in combat with the Bishop of Munster; from 1672 until 1678 there was almost continuous warfare with France, England and the Bishops of Munster and Cologne, while from 1688 until 1697 the Republic was at war with France again. In other words, for more than half the century the Netherlands was on a war footing with one or more other countries, and
one is tempted to ask what was so golden about all this.
Yet at the same time it was a period of extraordinary creativity. The wars were mainly fought on the outskirts of the Republic, or at sea, and as there were no incursions of foreign troops before 1672, daily life in the Netherlands was hardly affected. No wholesale destruction took place and artists and writers, architects and builders could work without fear that their creations would be destroyed. And, what is more, on the whole without fear of persecution. In sharp contrast to the South, the cultural climate of the North was one of freedom and tolerance. The Erasmian spirit had taken firm root in the Netherlands, and although there were from time to time powerful factions which managed to suppress those of whom they did not approve, the general atmosphere in the Netherlands was far more liberal than in the surrounding countries. Face to face with this statement one could draw up a lengthy list of those who were molested because of their dissenting views - Vondel would appear on it, and Grotius and Adriaan Koerbagh - but these cases were the exceptions rather than the rule. Had they lived somewhere else, their fate would probably have been a good deal worse.
As early as 1578 William of Orange had published a decree in which he stated that ‘in the matter of religion everyone should remain free to answer to God as he shall wish’, and even if his principle was not always adhered to, the general attitude of the authorities was characterized by a tolerance that was rare in the Europe of that time. This attitude attracted refugees of all kinds: Jews, French Huguenots, the Pilgrim Fathers, and such famous men as Descartes, Locke, and Bayle. Naturally, the tolerance of the Dutch authorities was not only of benefit to the refugees, but also to the Republic itself. The influx of scholars from many different countries brought an element of internationalism and sophistication to Dutch intellectual life. Also, the comparative freedom of the press made Leiden and Amsterdam the publishing centres of the liberal world:
Galileo was printed in the Netherlands, as were Socinus, Descartes, Spinoza, Richard Simon's Bible criticism and John Locke's Epistola de Tolerantia.
To the world at large the most spectacular feature of the Dutch Golden Age is the work of the painters. The names of Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Johannes Vermeer, Adriaan van Ostade, Jan Steen, Adriaan Brouwer and many others are known everywhere and examples of their art can be seen in most countries. Similarly, the achievements of scientists like Anthonie van Leeuwenhoek and Christiaan Huygens, of Hugo Grotius, the founder of international law, and of the philosopher Baruch de Spinoza became common property of the civilized world. But with the writers it was a different matter. The language barrier was a powerful one and prevented most of the writers from becoming more than local celebrities. There were exceptions to this rule, and there were occasions when Dutch literature was able to break through the language barrier and make its mark abroad. In the 1620s, the German poet Martin Opitz translated a number of contemporary Dutch poems into German, thereby introducing the iambic alexandrine into German literature. Opitz became the creator of a new poetic language in Germany, and it was through his contact with the Dutch poets that German literature of those years bears the unmistakable imprint of the Dutch Renaissance. Later in the century, the dramatic work of Joost van den Vondel became influential in Germany through Andreas Gryphius who, like Philipp von Zesen and Paul Fleming, for some time studied in Leiden. Gryphius translated Vondel's Gebroeders (Brothers) into German, and his own dramas Leo Arminius and Die Geliebte Dornrose both owe a large debt to Vondel.
International recognition came more easily to those writers who used Latin as the language of literature. The best-known figures among those were Daniel Heinsius, professor of Greek and History at the University of Leiden, and Hugo Grotius, who was not only a lawyer but also a considerable poet and dramatist. Both achieved European fame in their
lifetime and according to André Jolles, if an educated European of the 1630s had been asked whom he considered the greatest Dutchmen of his time, he would have mentioned Grotius and Heinsius. And the greatest poets? Then he would have mentioned the same names, but in reverse order. Jolles was probably right. Heinsius and Grotius were the great names, and the poets whom we now regard as the major writers - Vondel, Bredero, Hooft and Huygens - were graded under the Neo-Latinists for the simple reason that they wrote in Dutch. Yet the Neo-Latin tide was turning, and the fact that Heinsius himself also wrote poetry in Dutch and published it, even if he ranked it well below his Latin work, is significant. It is equally significant that his friend Jacob Revius, also a scholar and poet of renown, wrote both in Dutch and in Latin, but published only his Dutch poetry and left the Latin poems in manuscript. There was still uncertainty in the minds of several writers whether Dutch was as suitable for the kind of poetry they wanted to write as Latin was, but it was an uncertainty that was gradually disappearing. In the preface to his Lofsang van Bacchus (1614) Heinsius stated that one of the reasons why he wrote it was to see whether Dutch was as unfit for this purpose as some people claimed it to be. Other poets started off with greater confidence, and neither Vondel nor Hooft nor Bredero was ever in doubt as to the suitability of Dutch though they still found it necessary on occasion to defend their confidence. Of even greater significance was the point of view of Huygens, who was as much a Neo-Latinist as he was a Dutch poet. In 1658, in the preface to his Donne translations he recalled that King Charles I had expressed to him his disbelief that anyone should be able to translate Donne satisfactorily: he would not have said that, wrote Huygens, if he had known the riches of the Dutch language.
In the early years of the seventeenth century, the Chambers of Rhetoric were still the centres of literary activity. But in the course of the century their position gradually changed. More and more of the important writers
chose to stay outside the Rederijker organizations so that the Chambers began to lose much of the authority they had once held. Many Chambers disbanded, particularly in the cities, and after the middle of the century most of them were to be found in the country and were regarded as rather old-fashioned institutions. The situation in Amsterdam provides a good example of the decline of the Chambers.
At the turn of the century there were three Chambers of Rhetoric in Amsterdam of which De Eglantier (The Eglantine) was the most prominent. It was also the oldest, dating back to the last years of the fifteenth century, and it became an important force in the literary world through the active membership of poets such as Hendrick Spiegel, Roemer Visscher, Pieter Hooft and Gerbrand Bredero. The other two Chambers, Het Wit Lavendel (The White Lavender) and Het Vijgeboomken (The Fig Tree) were Brabant Chambers, established by Brabant immigrants in or around 1585. The latter was never of great consequence, but the former could for some years boast the membership of Joost van den Vondel, whose parents had come to Amsterdam from Brabant. De Eglantier suffered for a number of years from serious internal strife. Hooft tried to solve this in 1613 by introducing stricter rules and standing orders, but the effect was only temporary. The discord in the Chamber was, personal incompatibilities apart, mainly a matter of new against old. Hooft and his friends were concerned with making De Eglantier into a centre of Renaissance poetry and drama, a centre where the new literature would be created, based on the examples of the classical writers. They were thwarted by a group of older members who were more inclined to continue in the non-classical tradition and who adopted as their guide the Spanish dramatist Lope de Vega. The dissension in the Chamber came to a head in 1617 when Samuel Coster, an Amsterdam doctor and playwright, and a friend and partisan of Hooft's, broke with De Eglantier and set up a new institution under the name of Nederduytsche Academie
(Dutch Academy), which Hooft, Bredero and several other members of the old Chamber joined.
Coster's Academy was something quite new in the Netherlands. It was a combination of several things: theatre, centre for the new literature and institute for higher learning. Teaching was to have an important place in the Academy, and immediately after it had been established, lecturers were appointed in Hebrew, Logic and Mathematics. Amsterdam did not have a university and Coster hoped that the Academy would fill this gap. It was in no way, however, to become a copy of the University of Leiden. On the contrary, Coster intended it to be a counter-balance to the Neo-Latin influence that was exercised by Leiden. The medium of instruction therefore was to be Dutch, not Latin as in Leiden. Also, all teaching was to be entirely independent of religious matters. Coster's ideas were a little too advanced to become very popular. The Academy encountered a great deal of opposition, particularly from the Calvinist ministers in Amsterdam, who succeeded in having the municipal authorities ban all teaching from the Academy only two years after its inception. There was also opposition to Coster's plays, especially to his Iphigeneia (1617) which attacked the interference of the ministers in matters of the world and which consequently drew their concentrated fire whenever it was performed. But - and this deserves equal emphasis - it was performed, and not only once, but frequently.
The relationship between Coster's Academy, De Eglantier and Het Wit Lavendel was complicated, but not entirely hostile. There were several quarrels among the leaders, but there was also a certain amount of co-operation. None of the three seems to have had enough vitality to lead an independent life: in 1630 Het Wit Lavendel merged with the Academy, and in 1635 this combination was joined by De Eglantier. The institution which resulted from these two mergers was known as De Amsterdamse Kamer (The Amsterdam Chamber), but should be regarded more as a
dramatic association than as a Rederijkerskamer in the old sense of the word. It was very successful: in a few years' time its building became too small for the audiences it was attracting, so that in 1637 a new theatre was built, the first proper theatre in the Netherlands. It was inaugurated in the same year with what was to become Vondel's best-known play, Gijsbrecht van Amstel .
Of the four major writers - Vondel, Hooft, Bredero and Huygens - three played a part in the Rederijker organizations. Bredero and Hooft were active in De Eglantier, Vondel was first a member of Het Wit Lavendel and later of De Eglantier. They were the last major writers to support the Chambers of Rhetoric. After them, these bodies seemed to have fulfilled their purpose. Some lingered on as theatre groups, others became purely social clubs, but they ceased to be the focal point of literary activity.
These three writers were all born in the 1580s: Hooft in 1581, Bredero in 1585 and Vondel in 1587. This means that they were at least a generation older than most of the major painters. Rembrandt, Van Ostade, Brouwer, Steen, Potter, Bol, Cuyp, Vermeer were all born between 1606 and 1632. If one does not always find the contact and mutual appreciation between painters and writers that one might expect, it should not be forgotten that the difference in ages may have been a contributing factor. Very little is known of Hooft's relationship with the painters of his day, but judging from the group of people that frequently met at his castle at Muiden, he seems to have been more interested in inviting writers, scholars and musicians than painters. Bredero who himself began as a painter, died in 1618, too early to see any work of the painters just mentioned. It is often said that several of Bredero's poems are reminiscent of paintings by Adriaan van Ostade, Adriaan Brouwer and Jan Steen. True, the similarities are often striking, but it is equally true that Bredero cannot have seen a single painting of any of these three, for when Bredero died, Brouwer was thirteen years old, Van Ostade nine, and seven years were to elapse before
the birth of Jan Steen. We know that Vondel at times expressed his admiration for Rembrandt - who was nineteen years his junior - but we also know that he never felt any great enthusiasm for his art. He, and many other writers of his generation preferred Rubens, who was twenty-nine years older than Rembrandt. Rembrandt's modernism, his deviation from the accepted rules did not appeal to Vondel, and the approach of Rubens was much closer to his own conception of what art should be. Geerard Brandt, who published a biography of Vondel in 1682, relates how in 1653 Vondel was honoured at a banquet attended by more than a hundred writers and painters, but unfortunately he omits to tell us who were there. We are better informed about Huygens's attitude to the painters, thanks to an autobiographical fragment which he wrote between 1629 and 1631. There he discussed a considerable number of painters, and also gave greatest praise to Rubens whom he called ‘one of the wonders of this world’ and ‘the Apelles of our time’. But Huygens was also one of the first to recognize the genius of Rembrandt, who was only twenty-five years old when Huygens predicted that he would soon surpass all the others. He had only one criticism to make of Rembrandt: he found him too self-sufficient and regretted that he did not want to visit Italy. A few years later Huygens acted as an intermediary when the Stadtholder Frederik Hendrik commissioned Rembrandt to paint a series of Passion paintings. As a token of gratitude Huygens received from Rembrandt his painting The Blinding of Samson.
Of the four great writers, Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft was the oldest. He was also the most typical Renaissance poet of that generation, a man who was completely at home in the classics, well versed in French and Italian Renaissance literature, and at the same time fully alive to the importance and value of his own language. His friend Huygens may have reproached Rembrandt for not wanting to go to Italy, such criticism could not be directed against Hooft. He was not yet eighteen years old when he set out on a grand tour which
took him through France, Italy and Germany. It should be said that travelling was probably easier for Hooft than it would have been for Rembrandt who was the son of a miller, whereas Hooft's father was a well-to-do merchant and burgomaster of Amsterdam. In May 1601 Hooft was back in Amsterdam, after an absence of almost three years.
When he was in Italy, he sent a kind of poetic circular letter to De Eglantier, of which he was a member. It is an informative poem in which he deals with the places he had visited and in which he discusses the writers who had made Italy famous. It is one of the earliest known poems of Hooft and its Renaissance character is unmistakable: it is liberal in its references to classical writers - Virgil, Ovid, Horace, Livy -, it is full of praise for Dante, Petrarch and Ariosto, and its form of alternating pairs of masculine and feminine alexandrines is typical of the Renaissance poem. To Hooft, the Renaissance prosody was not something to be slowly acquired and assimilated, but something that he was born to and that he used from the beginning as a matter of course.
Hooft left another account of his travels in the form of a short prose book which he called Reis-Heuchenis (Travel Memoir), probably written from notes after his return. In this book he does not deal with literature at all, but almost exclusively with the cities he had visited. One of the conclusions one can draw from this book is that architecture meant much more to him than painting, and then only classical and ‘modern’ architecture. As a true representative of the Renaissance he took little interest in the architecture of the Middle Ages. The only aspect of Notre-Dame that impressed him was its size and the amount of money it must have cost; otherwise his terse comment is: ‘not beautiful’.
It seems likely that in Italy Hooft came into contact with a genre of literature that was practically unknown in the Netherlands, namely the pastoral play. In 1603 he began to write one himself, Granida, which was completed in 1605. In many ways it is an imitation of Guarini's Il Pastor Fido, just as John Fletcher a few years later imitated Guarini in his
Faithful Shepherdess (1610). Hooft's Granida is not a pure example of the pastoral play. It is a mixture of pastoral and tragi-comedy. Only the first act is pastoral in the strict sense of the word; the other acts, set at the court of Persia, are in subject-matter and situation more typical of Renaissance drama than of the pastoral play. One could even go a step further and argue that Granida should be regarded primarily as a lyrical work, eulogizing the triumph of true love, rather than as an example of dramatic art. It is brilliantly written, it has the gracefulness and the lightness of a divertimento, but the situation is too unreal, the characterization too sketchy for the play to be able to make much dramatic impact. Also, against the background of the Holland of that period, a pastoral play has a strong element of artificiality. One of its themes is the contrast between life at court and life in the country, with the inevitable conclusion that country life is vastly preferable, and that shepherds and shepherdesses hold a larger share of the truth than courtiers. In Italy, with its many courts and their entourage of an aristocracy about whose morality there existed grave doubts, the back-to-nature call of the pastoral play could meet with response. In Holland, however, where there was hardly any question of a court and where the aristocracy and the ‘courtiers’ were worlds apart from their Italian counterparts, the message of the pastoral play fell rather flat.
In spite of the artificiality of this type of play, Granida was quite successful and seems to have been performed frequently. Yet it did not inspire many other writers to follow suit. Pastoral plays in Dutch remained few and far between. Granida's success was probably not so much due to the genre, but to the elegance and refinement of Hooft's poetry. Hooft himself considered it a trifle and did not publish it until 1615, and then only because the year before two of his earlier plays had been printed without his knowledge and with many corruptions of the original text. Under those circumstances he preferred to publish the play himself. Apart from throwing some light on the pre-copyright
world of publishing, it also shows that Hooft was not a writer who rushed into print. As a writer - and not only as a writer - he was akin to Spiegel and Coornhert who regarded writing as an interesting and absorbing pastime, but as no more than that. Passion for literary fame, common as it was among Renaissance writers in general, was rare among the Dutch writers of that time. In 1610 Hooft began a letter to Heinsius with the following words: ‘I am not a writer, although I have sometimes written poetry for pleasure, which to my concern has become known’. The sentiment behind this statement is partly the studied modesty of the Humanist, but partly also the conviction of being a writer only in the second or third place.
As Granida suggested, Hooft's strength as a poet was the lyric and in particular the love lyric. In 1611 he published his first volume of lyrical poetry under the triple title of Emblemata Amatoria, Afbeeldingen van Minne, Emblèmes d'Amour . It contains a series of emblems followed by about fifty lyrical poems, songs and sonnets. They are lyrical poems not in the romantic sense of outpourings of the heart, but in the Renaissance sense of well-controlled personal poetry. Most of them are love poems, tributes to the objects of his love and laments about the loss of a beloved, some in a philosophical vein, others light and playful. Hooft must have been a passionate man, but in his poetry his passion is always under control. Philosophically he was a stoic, and the blows that love dealt him were cushioned by his stoicism before they became poetry. Throughout his work there is a carefully maintained distance between his innermost feelings and their reflection on paper. Classical and mythological figures sometimes seem to act as shields behind which he could withdraw when personal feelings were becoming too dominant.
In 1605 he wrote a poem about the end of his love affair with Brechje Spiegel, a niece of Hendrick Spiegel's:
Sal nemmermeer gebeuren
mij dan nae dese stondt
de vrientschap van u oogen
After six stanzas in this tone: lofty, tender, elegiac, he suddenly breaks off, introduces the Lady Venus, and develops the poem in a new direction of wit and clever allegory. On the basis of a poem such as this, Hooft has from time to time been accused of lack of feeling, of being insensitive to tragedy. There is little truth in this accusation and a great deal of injustice. To the Renaissance poet, ‘feeling’ was not the stuff poetry was made of. Wit was, and sophistication, ingenuity and control of emotion. In Hooft's circle of friends, control of emotion, in particular of grief, was a conditio sine qua non, in actual life as well as in poetry. Depth of feeling in literature was not demonstrated emotionally, but rationally, i.e. in perfection of form, in ingenious imagery, in elegant diction.
Hooft's best lyrics were written within a rather short space of time: in the years between 1601 and 1611. He did not stop writing lyrical poetry after 1611 and some of the later poems are very good indeed, for example Klaghte der Prinsesse van Oranjen (Lament of the Princess of Orange), to mention only one. But in the later poems he reached that level only occasionally, and several of them seem a little chatty and sometimes more than a little forced. The earlier poems, on the contrary, stand out through their conciseness of diction, or rather through their combination of economy of words and richness of expression. None of these poems is dull, or slack or too drawn out, and they are unequalled by any of Hooft's contemporaries. They owe a debt to several Renaissance poets - Petrarch, Ronsard, Desportes - and to the classics, but Hooft always maintained a large measure of independence, and the tone of his poetry is entirely his own.
As a playwright Hooft wrote several more plays after
Granida. The first of these, Geeraerdt van Velsen (1613), may have been inspired by his surroundings. In 1609 Hooft had been appointed to the position of Drost (Sheriff) at Muiden. He was only twenty-eight at the time, and one may regard his appointment as an indication of the prestige he commanded, particularly since the position had always been reserved for nobility. The official residence of the Drost was Muiderslot, the castle at Muiden, a town on the coast of the Zuiderzee, not far from Amsterdam. The castle which was then well over three hundred years old, had great historical fame as the scene of the murder of the controversial Count Floris V in 1296. The occupant of the castle in those years had been Gerard van Velzen, one of the main adversaries of the Count. Hooft dramatized the arrest and death of Floris V, placing Gerard van Velzen in the centre of the action and using Muiderslot as the setting of the play. To Hooft, Floris was not the traditional hero and protector of the people, but a tyrant and a violator, not only of the privileges of the nobles, but also of the honour of Gerard van Velzen's wife. Dramatically, the play shows a great improvement over Granida. The characters are more consistent, not entirely black and white, and therefore a good deal more credible. The Count stands condemned right through the play, but he is allowed a certain dignity, and the remorse that he feels for his misdeeds is given the mark of sincerity. Gerard van Velzen is cast as the man who undertakes to defend liberty against the Count's abuse of power, but the nobility of his heroism is tainted by the impurity of his motives, driven as he is by the urge to revenge his wife's honour. If Geeraerdt van Velsen is not entirely successful as a drama, it is mainly because the characters tend to be personifications of ideas rather than living people. Hooft used the play to expound his theories on authority and power, on violence and social order. In his discussion of the role of the ruler and the responsibilities of the subjects, he made a strong plea for unity and tolerance. Written and published during the Twelve Years' Truce, a period not remarkable for either
quality, the play had a strongly topical aspect and served as a reminder of the consequences of intolerance and discord.
In his next play, Baeto (1617), Hooft again used the theatre as a platform for his political and constitutional ideas. Baeto is also a historical play, dealing, as the subtitle announces, with the origin of the Dutch. The young prince Baeto is persecuted by his stepmother Penta, who engineers a series of attempts on his life. Baeto survives them, but in the last attempt his wife is killed. When he then finds himself attacked by his father, he at first gives battle, but after he has won, he suddenly withdraws and chooses exile in preference to having to rule over a divided kingdom. He leaves the country and settles in an uninhabited area where he becomes the progenitor of the Dutch.
Baeto is the embodiment of Hooft's conception of the ideal ruler. He is an opponent of absolutism and comes very close to the modern constitutional monarch: his main concern is the unity of the country. The play also deals with the relation between Church and State which in the years of the truce was one of the central problems in the Netherlands. Hooft allows an important place to the Church, but as a moral force and not as a seat of political power. Both Baeto and Geeraerdt van Velsen are typical Renaissance plays. They deal with national subject-matter and they are written in the classical manner, after the example of Seneca. Both consist of five acts, with choruses after the acts, and both observe the unities of time and place. Yet Geeraerdt van Velsen also contains some features that are reminiscent of the medieval morality play, such as the two sets of allegorical figures: Discord, Violence and Deceit on the one hand, and Concord, Loyalty and Innocence on the other. At the end of the play, another personification, the river Vecht, prophesies the future prosperity of Amsterdam.
Before Baeto was finished and while Hooft was thinking how and when it could be performed, he wrote a comedy, in the hope, as he said in a letter to Grotius, that it might help defray the cost of the Baeto production. He spent nine days
on it, he added almost apologetically. It was not an original play, but an adaptation of Plautus's Aulularia, the play that also provided the material for Molière's L'Avare. Hooft's Warenar is one of the gems of seventeenth-century comedy and deserves all the praise that Grotius and many others heaped upon it. It is a very lively play, excellent theatre, and so successfully transposed into an Amsterdam atmosphere that it is hard to believe that it was adapted from a Latin play. It also shows - as does Huygens's Trijntje Cornelis (1653) - that the aristocrats of the seventeenth century had not cut themselves off from the lower strata of society, but knew exactly what was going on, how people lived and what language they spoke.
In his two major plays Hooft had shown a strong predilection for historical themes. His interest in history was not only that of the playwright who needs material for his work, but more that of a professional historian who is interested in the relation between past and present. It was an interest that had been with him for a long time. Over the years he had made an intensive study of several Latin historians, especially of Tacitus whose work, if we may believe Geerard Brandt, his seventeenth-century biographer, he had read no less than fifty-two times. When Hooft began to write history himself, it was Tacitus whom he adopted as his guide. In order to shape his style, he first translated most of Tacitus's work, then wrote a history of the Medicis and a biography of Henry IV of France, a king whom he admired greatly as being heroic and yet tolerant and peace-loving. In 1628 Hooft began what was to become his magnum opus: Nederlandsche Historiën (Dutch History), a history of the revolt against Spain.
Nederlandsche Historiën consists of twenty-seven books, beginning with the year 1555, the year of the abdication of Charles V, and ending in 1587. Unfortunately, completion of the work was precluded by Hooft's death in 1647. The first twenty books appeared in 1642, the other seven were published after his death by his son. It is a work that holds a
place in literature as well as in historiography. It is not literature in the sense of romanticized history, or of imagination triumphing over fact, but it is a work of literature by virtue of its style, its vision, its vivid presentation and its masterly organization. As a work of history the book is based on hard fact. Hooft used as many original sources as he could lay his hands on: all kinds of documents, decrees, edicts, letters in Dutch, Latin, French, Italian and Spanish. He also made personal enquiries and interviewed a large number of people who had played a part in the revolt. Like Tacitus, his intention was to write sine ira et studio, but, also like Tacitus, Hooft was not an entirely neutral observer. His sympathies were unequivocally on the side of the Dutch, and the revolt against Spain was regarded by him as a legitimate fight against tyranny. Yet, in evaluating events and motives, he tried consistently to be impartial and objective. As in his poetry, he kept his personal feelings in check, and, considering he was writing in the 1630s when memories of the war and all that had happened were still fresh, he was singularly successful in avoiding portraying the Spaniards as black devils and the Dutch as lily-white angels. When heroism and generosity occurred on the Spanish side, he did not refrain from describing it, and when he found cruelty and cowardice among the Dutch, he did not suppress that either. To him, the great hero of the revolt was William of Orange who possessed the very qualities which Hooft valued in a ruler: wisdom, tolerance, resoluteness. Hooft's History has had a great influence and has provided many generations with a well-reasoned interpretation of the revolt and the personalities who took part in it. Its concise and elliptical style, strongly influenced by Tacitus's Latin, was too idiosyncratic to find many followers and as a result Nederlandsche Historiën is both the most important and the most lonely prose work to have come out of the seventeenth century.
Gerbrand Adriaanszoon Bredero, born in 1585, four years later than Hooft, presents in many respects a contrast with
him. Hooft was an aristocrat, the son of an Amsterdam burgomaster, whereas Bredero's father was a shoemaker, well-to-do, to be sure, but much more middle-class than Hooft. Hooft had seen something of the world, had travelled through Europe for almost three years, whereas Bredero hardly ever set foot outside Amsterdam. Hooft had had an excellent education, had studied in Leiden and was fluent in several languages, whereas Bredero on occasion excused himself for his lack of linguistic training and called himself an ordinary Amsterdamer who only knew a little school-French. That was probably an exaggeration, for though he may not have been a scholar like Hooft, his French was certainly adequate and he also seems to have known some English. The contrasts which undoubtedly existed in the lives and in the work of Hooft and Bredero have often been overemphasized and pushed to extremes: Hooft wealthy and socially successful, Bredero down and out; Hooft reserved, detached and always master of himself, Bredero spontaneous, impetuous and always his own victim; Hooft the poet for the happy few, Bredero a writer for the people.
These characterizations may be true enough for Hooft, they are very inaccurate so far as Bredero is concerned. As our knowledge of Bredero's life is very sketchy, the temptation to infer from what little we know a striking contrast with Hooft has been strong and has not always been resisted. One of the few things we know of Bredero is that he was an ensign in the schuttery, a kind of civil militia, and as this was a respected and sought-after appointment, it flatly contradicts the notion of his social failure. It is also known that Bredero was trained as a painter and received lessons from Francesco Badens, a well-known painter at the time but one whose entire oeuvre has been lost. The same applies to Bredero: none of his paintings has been preserved. As so little is known of Bredero's life attempts have been made to reconstruct it from his work, but this has proved a perilous undertaking and has led to many misconceptions. A large part of his work consists of love poetry which gives the
impression of a young man constantly and always hopelessly in love with a succession of girls. Too literal interpretation of these poems and failure to distinguish between what is ‘literature’ and what real experience, has led to a portrayal of Bredero as a libertine and profligate, a portrayal that is not borne out by his work as a whole. In fact, it is contradicted by a great deal of his poetry and by the few letters which have been preserved and which suggest a serious, well-mannered and well-educated young man.
Bredero began to write when he was quite young, and, like Hooft, he became a member of the Amsterdam Chamber De Eglantier . His early poems were still written in the Rederijker manner with liberal borrowings from the French, rich rhymes, complicated rhyming patterns and forced imagery. On the whole there are more traditional elements in his poetry than in Hooft's. In more than one poem one can hear echoes of medieval folksongs and popular poetry, and some of his anecdotal poems, often dealing with farcical love situations, are reminiscent of the work of the medieval Rederijkers. After his death in 1618 his poems were published under three headings: Boertigh, Amoureus en Aendachtigh Groot Lied-boeck (Comical, Amorous and Religious Great Song Book), a division which recalls the categories of sotte, amoureuze and vroede used by the Rederijkers. In spite of these reminiscences it would be wrong to regard Bredero as a belated Rederijker. The form of his poetry, his versification, and often the vision, too, mark his work clearly as part of Renaissance literature. He was undoubtedly influenced by Hooft, whom he knew personally and for whom he had great regard. Whether one prefers Hooft's lyrical poems or Bredero's is, of course, a personal matter. Bredero's poetry lacks Hooft's elegance, refinement and his conciseness of expression. Beside Hooft, Bredero's poetry often seems less tightly organized. It has, on the other hand, a movement and a swing that one does not find in Hooft. Bredero's directness, the impression he makes of giving himself entirely in his poetry - irrespective of whether
the poems are truly autobiographical or not - lends his work an air of immediacy which Hooft's work never has, and, one may assume, was never intended to have. The basic difference between the work of these two is that Hooft's poetry is essentially intellectual and musical, and Bredero's visual. Hooft, after all, was a thinker, steeped in philosophy, whereas Bredero was a painter.
The difference in approach between Hooft and Bredero is also apparent from their plays. Bredero was a prolific playwright, but did not write any historical plays, nor did he use his plays as a vehicle for views on statecraft and politics. He was an entertainer rather than an educator and was certainly much closer to the popular taste than Hooft was. When his plays were published in 1617, Samuel Coster stated in his Preface that in the three years in which Bredero's work had been performed by De Eglantier, the takings had been greater than in all previous years.
For his first three plays - Rodderick en Alphonsus, Griane and Stommen Ridder (Mute Knight) - Bredero turned to the sixteenth-century Spanish prose book of Palmerin de Oliva which was then very popular in Europe and which he used either in the French or the Dutch translation. These three plays are romantic plays, re-creating medieval subject-matter with the technique of the Renaissance. It was a genre which flourished in Spain and in Elizabethan England, but which never rose to great heights in the Netherlands. Bredero was its best exponent in Dutch, but in spite of his feeling for the theatre and his ability to write excellent dialogue, he did not really succeed in bringing the characters of these plays to life. The most vivid moments are the interpolations, the comical interludes which he added. In those scenes Bredero was at his best. He was then no longer dealing with romantic figures from a distant past, but with contemporaries whom he had observed and whom he knew. That these interludes do not contribute to the unity of the plays, goes without saying.
In the years 1612 and 1613 Bredero wrote three short
comedies: De Klucht van de Koe (The Farce of the Cow), De Klucht van de Molenaar (The Farce of the Miller), and De Klucht van Symen sonder Soeticheyt (The Farce of Simon without Sweetness), of which the first and the second deserve special mention. Both the Farce of the Cow and the Farce of the Miller are based on traditional material. The farmer who sells a cow for a thief without knowing that it is his own, and the miller who thinks that he is entertained by an attractive city woman but unwittingly sleeps with his own wife, were well-known figures in European literature. These traditional figures were transformed by Bredero into purely Dutch characters, and with so much polish that they acquired all the sparkle of completely original creations. At the same time, the composition which left something to be desired in the earlier plays attained a degree of perfection which was beyond the range of any other comedy writer in the seventeenth century. Bredero's ear for dialogue, his eye for detail, his insight into character and his sense of timing, all these qualities which he had always possessed, suddenly coalesced to make these two short plays the highlights of seventeenth-century comedy.
In his next play, Bredero tried a transformation of another kind. Moortje (The Moorish Woman) is an adaptation of Terence's Eunuchus, set in Amsterdam and placed against a Dutch background in the same manner as Hooft's Warenar a year later. Bredero regarded Hooft as his master, but it seems that on this occasion the master followed the pupil. Moortje, although good theatre, suffers from similar weaknesses as the first three plays. The best parts, again, are the interpolated scenes for which Bredero could draw upon upon his own observations. But, as in the earlier plays, these interpolations were not always smoothly integrated in the original work and caused some improbabilities in an already complicated plot. With the hindsight of the historian it is easy to see that once Bredero developed those scenes more fully - as he began to do in the short farces - and made his own observations the basis of a play, he would write a masterpiece. Which he did in
1618, the year of his death.
In Spaanschen Brabander (Spanish Brabanter) his observations stayed even closer to home than in the farces. The farmer and the miller were certainly people he knew, but not as intimately as the citizens of Amsterdam. And those were the people he put on the stage in his last play. There is a tinsmith and a goldsmith, a painter and a match-maker, there are boys enjoying a slanging match with the dog-whipper, whores gossiping about their trade and old men telling morbid tales of sickness and death. The plot of the play was provided by the Spanish picaresque novel Lazarillo de Tormes, which Bredero acknowledged in his introduction, but this time he allowed himself so much freedom, not only in the setting but also in the characterization, that the incongruities which marred some of his earlier work, did not occur. Actually, one can hardly speak of a plot. What there is of it is no more than a framework in which the characters can move. Consequently the play has little dramatic structure. The scenes are contained within five acts, but this division seems rather arbitrary and is more significant as a recognition of the prevailing fashion than as a result of dramatic necessity. Throughout the play the emphasis is on the individual scenes, not on their relation to one another, and it would indeed be best to regard the play as a kind of revue, a series of scenes held together by the two central characters, Jerolimo and his servant Robbeknol.
Jerolimo is a gentleman swindler who makes a living by selling hired goods and who boasts in flowery language of his former grand life in Brabant, continually extolling the virtues of that country, while sounding off at the Hollanders. The play had considerable topicality, for since the 1580s Amsterdam had been the refuge of a fairly large number of Brabanters and other Southerners, and relations between them and the Amsterdamers were often strained. The Brabanters tended to stick together, spoke with a different accent and were regarded by the native Amsterdamers as flamboyant and showy. To make matters worse, it was felt
by both parties that the Brabanters came from an area which was culturally superior. The result was that the Amsterdamers looked on the Brabant community in their town with an uncomfortable mixture of admiration and resentment. It must therefore have been a satisfying experience for them to see one of those Brabanters thoroughly ridiculed on the stage. In his introduction to the play Bredero moralizes at length about bankrupts such as Jerolimo who do not care about the misery they cause to innocent people, but in the play itself he adopts a more subtle approach. He does not attack Jerolimo directly, but he lets him make a fool of himself in his bombastic speeches so that all his criticism of Amsterdam and the Amsterdamers boomerangs back on him. The Amsterdamers could, and did, derive great comfort from this. But there is more to Jerolimo. He may be a pompous fool, yet he also has some generous and almost idealistic traits, he is very resourceful and a man of fortitude in his own way. He does not complain when things go against him, he never loses heart and always remains absolutely true to his own fantasies. He is in fact a latter-day Don Quichote who in the course of the play wins the grumbling loyalty of his Sancho, the down-to-earth Amsterdamer Robbeknol. By tempering his criticism of the Brabanter with an unmistakable element of affection, Bredero has given this play a subtlety which none of his other plays possess. It was his last work. He died in the same year, at the age of thirty-three.
In the years when Bredero was developing a new kind of comedy, Joost van den Vondel was writing his first dramas. Vondel, indisputably the greatest dramatist of the seventeenth century, was two years younger than Bredero, and, from a social point of view, closer to him than to Hooft. Like Bredero, Vondel belonged to the Amsterdam middle-class. Yet there was an important distinction between the two. Bredero came from a very Dutch family which had lived in Amsterdam for generations whereas Vondel's parents were not from Amsterdam but from Brabant, which placed him in a different social context.
Vondel's father, a hat-maker, left Antwerp in 1582 for reasons which have never become entirely clear. The Vondels were Baptists and they may have felt or actually have been threatened in Calvinist Antwerp. They went to Cologne where young Vondel was born in 1587. But in Cologne, which was Roman Catholic, the situation was no less difficult for them than in Antwerp so that they moved again. After some years of wandering through Germany, they finally settled down in Amsterdam in 1596, when Vondel was nine years old. The father opened a shop dealing in silks and stockings in Warmoesstraat, the centre of the Brabant community in Amsterdam. Growing up in this environment, Vondel for a long time felt a Brabanter, a member of a minority group. There is little doubt that spending his early years in a social and religious minority environment was an important factor in the development of his personality and his work.
Vondel's first play, Het Pascha (Passover), was a tragi-comedy, a form which was new in Dutch literature. The first tragi-comedies in Dutch were written by Jacob Duym, a poet from Brabant, who in the first years of the seventeenth century lived in Leiden where he was head of the Chamber of Rhetoric. It is likely that Vondel knew his work and that when he wrote his first play as a young man of twenty-three he chose for it that modern form which Duym had recently introduced and which Hooft had also used for two minor plays which preceded Granida. Granida itself, as much a tragi-comedy as it was a pastoral play, may also have influenced the form of Het Pascha. The treatment of the choruses in Het Pascha suggests that Vondel was well aware of the function Hooft had given to the choruses in Granida. One may therefore say that Vondel's first play linked up with the latest developments in the theatre. Through its subject-matter it was connected with the biblical Rederijker play, as written, for example, by Abraham de Koningh, who like Vondel was a member of Het Wit Lavendel, the Brabant Chamber of Rhetoric in Amsterdam. A comparison with the
work of De Koningh shows, however, that by reducing the number of characters and scene changes, and by eliminating comic allegorical figures Vondel gave the traditional biblical play a more modern dress. The looseness of Het Pascha's dramatic construction is only partly a relic of the Rederijker play. It is also partly due to Vondel's conception of drama as a ‘speaking picture’. For him the emphasis in dramatic art was not on action, but on the pictorial aspect. It is a view that is more clearly discernible in one play than in another, and more so in the earlier plays than in the later ones, but it is the principle that underlies all his dramatic work. It explains the lack of action in his drama, an absence which many critics have lamented, and also his devotion to detail, even when the details have no bearing on the action. Furthermore it helps to explain why Vondel sometimes chose a subject that was hardly suitable for dramatic treatment, such as the capture and destruction of Amsterdam in Gijsbrecht van Aemstel and the fall of the angels in Lucifer . To him they were suitable because of their pictorial potentialities, static as this may have made the drama.
Het Pascha might best be described as a series of coherent tableaux, depicting the deliverance of the Jews from Egypt. The language, too, with its slow but easy flow, its ornateness, its rich and flowery phrases - strongly influenced by the exuberant style of du Bartas - stresses almost line by line the pictorial aspect. The various tableaux had meaning as illustrations of an episode in biblical history, but they also referred to the situation in the Netherlands. The play was written in 1610, the year after the signing of the truce with Spain. The war had been successful and there was a widespread feeling that it was all over. The whole of the North had been freed from enemy troops and the truce had been concluded on very good terms. To many people there seemed no reason why the war should ever be started again. In that first optimistic year of the truce Vondel wrote his play in which he drew a parallel between the liberation of the Jews from Egypt and the liberation of the Dutch from
Spain, and in which he celebrated the freedom of the Netherlands and what must have seemed to him the end of the war.
In the years between Het Pascha and his next play, Hierusalem Verwoest (Jerusalem Destroyed), Vondel spent much time filling in the gaps in his education. He learnt Latin and English, and improved his knowledge of French by translating parts of du Bartas's Semaines. His study of Latin enabled him to read Seneca in the original and for the next ten years Seneca was going to be an important influence in his dramatic work. Seneca at that time was the greatest single influence in the Dutch theatre. Hugo Grotius had started the Seneca fashion in 1601 with his Latin drama Adamus Exul, and was followed by Daniel Heinsius in 1602 with Auriacus which Jacob Duym translated into Dutch. Through Heinsius the Senecan ideas spread to Hooft, in whose Geeraerdt van Velsen they are clearly noticeable. At the house of Roemer Visscher, Vondel met regularly with Hooft and several other poets to read and translate Seneca. Together this group produced a prose translation of Troades which Vondel rhymed and published a few years later. Seneca appealed to him for various reasons. He was in full agreement with the way in which Seneca subordinated action to plasticity. He appreciated Seneca's rhetoric and grandiloquence, and also his interest in historical detail. What must also have appealed to him was Seneca's full-blooded treatment of acts of violence, his way of showing horrific examples without any squeamish withholding of gory detail. Vondel followed Seneca's lead with gusto and Hierusalem Verwoest contains some very graphic descriptions. It must be said though, that other Baroque dramatists, Andreas Gryphius for one, went a great deal further in this respect.
The year 1618 was the year of the conflict between the Stadtholder Maurits and the Grand Pensionary Johan van Oldenbarnevelt. The following year Oldenbarnevelt was executed, and Grotius and several others were imprisoned. The conflict between Oldenbarnevelt and Maurits, or in a
wider context, between Remonstrants and Contra-Remonstrants, had two aspects. In religious matters the Remonstrants were opposed to the Calvinist dogmas of original sin and predestination in their strictly orthodox sense. In politics they supported the sovereignty of the various provinces and resisted the attempts of Maurits to establish a centralized state. Also the fact that Oldenbarnevelt had pushed the truce through against the wishes of Maurits was an important factor in the conflict. Vondel followed the events closely without at first expressing an opinion in public. The political side was not of great interest to him, but his dislike of rigid Calvinist dogma brought him gradually to the side of Oldenbarnevelt and the Remonstrants.
In his biography of Vondel, Geerard Brandt tells us that after the execution of Oldenbarnevelt someone suggested to Vondel that he should write a play about it. Vondel declined, saying that the time had not yet come; but the other persisted and said that he should write it ‘with different names’. According to Brandt, Vondel then came across the story of the feud between Ulysses and Palamedes, one of the Greek kings involved in the siege of Troy. Palamedes was in favour of seeking peace with the Trojans, but was accused by Ulysses of high treason and subsequently stoned to death. The evidence produced was a letter which had been forged by Ulysses and a sackful of gold, buried by Ulysses in the tent of Palamedes. It was a story that offered several parallels to the Maurits-Oldenbarnevelt conflict. The idea took some time to germinate and Vondel's Palamedes was not completed and published until 1625, the year of Maurits's death. Brandt relates that while Vondel was still working on the play, news came that the Prince was dying. ‘Let him die’, Vondel replied, ‘I am just ringing the death-knell for him’. This anecdote, and the title of the play, Palamedes of Vermoorde Onnoselheit (Palamedes or Murdered Innocence), indicate the spirit in which it was written. Palamedes, who stands for Oldenbarnevelt, is the innocent hero, a man too noble to be true, whereas Maurits, repre-
sented by Ulysses's friend Agamemnon, is the blackest villain. The characterization of the two leading characters is done entirely in black and white, and Vondel's hero-worship of Oldenbarnevelt in combination with his bitter hatred of Maurits prevented the play from becoming a convincing tragedy. Palamedes may not be Vondel's best play, writing and publishing it was certainly an act of courage. The conflict between Remonstrants and Contra-Remonstrants had been a sharp one, the Contra-Remonstrants had won the day, and they were not going to let themselves be accused of murder without hitting back. The first edition of Palamedes was seized, and the government in The Hague demanded Vondel's extradition. Fortunately for him the city council of Amsterdam refused and decided to try him in Amsterdam itself. Vondel appeared before the court with a solicitor and two barristers who argued rather disingenuously, but not without success, that Palamedes was a Greek tragedy and nothing else. Vondel was reprimanded and fined three hundred guilders, and Palamedes went through seven more editions before a year had passed.
Far from intimidating him, the Palamedes affair seems to have made Vondel more outspoken, for in the years after 1625 he wrote a great deal of satirical poetry with a political bias. In Rommelpot van het Hanekot (Rumbling Pot of the Cock-pit) he attacked the Contra-Remonstrant ministers who had dismissed their colleague Hanecop for having spoken out against the looting of a Remonstrant church; in Harpoen (Harpoon) he contrasted the good and the bad ministers; in Roskam (Curry-comb) he inveighed against the corruption of modern magistrates. These poems - and he wrote several more of the same kind - are all of them fierce and militant, obviously writtten in anger and ranging in style from the broad Amsterdam dialect of a street-ballad to the lofty tone of his dramatic work. Some are just outbursts and contain more emotion than poetry, but the best ones - Roskam for example - are very eloquent expressions of an honest indignation.
Vondel stopped writing these satires as suddenly as he had begun and turned to a new form. He started work on an epic poem about Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor of Rome. As a protest against the fragmentation of Christianity, he wanted to celebrate Constantine as the great unifying force. But after some years' work, he tore up what he had written. In 1639 he wrote to Grotius who had frequently encouraged him to complete it, that after the death of his wife and two of his children he felt too depressed to continue with it. This may indeed have been the reason, but it is also possible that his intensive study of Constantine's life had brought to light details which were disappointing and which made him regard Constantine as unsuitable for the part of the epic hero who, according to the Renaissance tradition, had to be pure and blameless in all respects.
When he was still hoping to complete the Constantinade, he interrupted work on it twice to return to tragedy. First he translated Grotius's Latin drama Sofompaneas, then he wrote an original play, Gijsbrecht van Aemstel, intended for the opening of the new theatre in Amsterdam in 1637. The occasion demanded an Amsterdam subject which was found in the events following the death of Count Floris V. In a sense therefore, the play continues Hooft's Geeraerdt van Velsen. It describes how, eight years after the death of the Count, his partisans laid siege to Amsterdam and burnt it. The form of the play is classical: five acts, choruses after the first four acts, unities of time and place, strict alexandrines. Vondel gave the play an additional classical aspect by closely following the second book of Virgil's Aeneid, so that the fall of Amsterdam recalled the fall of Troy and assumed a similar grandeur. As the occasion was a festive one, Amsterdam's rebirth and future greatness were prophesied at at the end of the play by the angel Raphael. This link with the Aeneid, together with Vondel's own theory that the pictorial aspect of drama should dominate over the dynamic aspect, gave the play an epic rather than a dramatic quality.
The lack of action in Gijsbrecht van Aemstel is notorious. Almost all events are reported instead of being acted out and one might even say that the play consists of a series of monologues. Its main beauty lies in its poetry, in the stately rhythm of the speeches and the lyrical musicality of the choruses. In spite of its static character it was very successful on the stage and went through well over a hundred productions in Vondel's lifetime. It has been suggested that Rembrandt was so impressed by a performance of Gijsbrecht that he based his Night Watch on its opening scene. The first performance did not take place without difficulty. The play was to open at Christmas, but the Calvinist ministers in Amsterdam suspected it of containing Roman Catholic features, and succeeded in delaying the first performance until 3rd January which till 1968 was its traditional opening date in Amsterdam.
The Calvinist ministers may have been small-minded in holding up the première of Gijsbrecht, yet their observations were not entirely wrong. One cannot say that Gijsbrecht van Aemstel is a Roman Catholic play, but it is certainly not the work of a man who was hostile to Roman Catholicism. Vondel in those years was becoming more and more dissatisfied with Protestantism and was slowly moving away from it. He moved so far away from it that at one stage he stood in between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, very much like Grotius, whom he admired greatly. But Vondel went a step further than Grotius and was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1641. His conversion had a profound influence on his work and in some repects also affected his place in the literary world and in society in general. The Netherlands in those years was governed as a Calvinist state. The Calvinists had identified themselves with the revolt and the war against Spain, and in the 1640s the war, which had been resumed in 1621, was practically won. The Roman Catholics had become identified with the enemy and were the losing party. The Calvinist Church was the Established Church, the Roman Catholic Church was
officially forbidden. There were loopholes, though, and bribery often persuaded the authorities not to enforce the law, so often in fact that in some areas of the country these bribes were considered as a kind of tax. In other areas Calvinism and Roman Catholicism co-existed more or less peacefully without bribes or tax. One of those areas was the district of Muiden where Hooft was the civil authority. Hooft, though a Protestant himself, left the Roman Catholics under his jurisdiction a great deal more freedom than the law allowed them. Yet, the treatment of the Roman Catholics in his district led to a conflict with Vondel. With the zeal of the newly converted, Vondel demanded a larger measure of freedom for the Roman Catholics in Hooft's area, adding that if Hooft did not comply he would use his influence in Brussels where Hooft was involved in a lawsuit. Hooft never forgave Vondel for this threat. He no longer invited him to Muiden and in their later contact adopted a tone of cool formality which Vondel resented but never properly understood.
The period immediately preceding Vondel's conversion had been very productive. In 1640 he published three biblical plays: Gebroeders (Brothers), translated the same year into German by Andreas Gryphius as Die Gibeoniter, Joseph in Dothan and Joseph in Egypte. They were followed in 1641 by Peter en Pauwels (Peter and Paul), a drama about the death of the two apostles. The first years after his conversion, on the other hand, were rather a lean period. It was five years before he wrote his next play, Maria Stuart, which as a drama suffers even more from his worship of the ‘innocent hero’ than Palamedes did. His attack on Queen Elizabeth and his attitude of apologist for Roman Catholicism brought him into court again, even though he had taken the precaution of publishing the play anonymously. He was fined one hundred and eighty guilders, ‘which seemed strange to many people’, says Brandt, ‘considering how much freedom of writing was permitted at that time and considering also that of old the poets were allowed more
freedom than others’.
In the same year 1646 another unpleasant incident occurred, also connected with his conversion. Two years before, Vondel had published his collected poems. It was not a complete edition: several poems, notably the satirical ones, were omitted. Now there appeared a second volume of Vondel's collected poems, published anonymously and containing all the poems omitted from the first volume. The book also contained a sneering preface in which the anonymous editor - though praising Vondel as a great poet - recalled that Vondel had now twice changed churches and wondered where he would go next. He also accused Vondel of having acted in bad faith when he published Grotius's Testament. After the death of Grotius in 1645 Vondel had translated a selection from his last work and this publication seemed to suggest that Grotius too had become a Roman Catholic. The Remonstrants, who had always regarded Grotius as one of their leaders, were up in arms and accused Vondel of tendentious translation, an accusation which was now repeated by the editor of Vondel's second volume. The book was clearly published in order to avenge Grotius and to embarrass Vondel by showing that he had not always been such a good Roman Catholic. Vondel tried in vain to find out who was responsible. Brandt in his biography talks glibly about a young man of twenty who was later sorry for what he had done. There are good reasons to assume that this young man was Brandt himself.
After these incidents which show that relations between Roman Catholics and Protestants were still very strained, it seems a pleasant sign of tolerance that it was Vondel who wrote the play for the official celebrations of the end of the war. He wrote it in 1647 while negotiations were still going on. Leeuwendalers was a kind of pastoral play, written as a glorification of peace. Vondel himself did not call it a pastoral play, but a ‘lantspel’, a country play, in which the shepherds of the Italian pastoral had given way to Dutch peasants.
Leeuwendalers was an occasional play and as such an interlude in Vondel's work. At the same time it marked the beginning of a new stage in his development as a dramatist. In the introduction to Leeuwendalers Vondel for the first time mentioned the Artistotelian notions of ‘recognition’ and ‘reversal of situation’, and the adoption of these notions added considerably to the dramatic quality of the plays which followed. In these later plays Vondel broke with the epic tendency of his earlier drama. His hero was no longer an epic hero, no longer an innocent, blameless man destroyed by the evils around him. In the later plays the conflict between good and bad takes place within the hero himself, who is neither wholly good nor wholly bad, but often wavering, and who is finally destroyed by his own deficiencies. In Salomon (1648), the protagonist King Solomon is a tragic hero of this kind. He is not entirely bad, but weak, cowardly and a victim of his own sensuality. He arouses pity and fear because of his former splendour and impending fall. He recognizes his guilt and in the end experiences the reversal of his situation.
Lucifer (1654), Vondel's most grandiose play, continues what Salomon began. It describes the rebellion of the angels after the creation of man. Lucifer takes charge of the rebellious angels but wavers for a long time between good and bad, between loyalty to God and the evil of an attack on God. Several times he is about to give in to the forces of loyalty and reason, but his army has become too strong for him and he is forced to go ahead. In the clash that follows, Lucifer is defeated and cast out. In order to revenge himself he then causes the fall of Adam and Eve. He is a tragic hero like Solomon, not evil, but over-jealous of his own position, and at the same time hesitant and allowing himself to be pushed in the direction of evil.
Lucifer is Vondel's most Baroque play. Everthing in it is lofty and grandiose. Its intention is to depict the most tragic moment in the history of mankind: the fall of Lucifer and the fall of man. Vondel strove after the highest possible: the characters are
angels, the scene is set in heaven. All this is reflected in the style which is more exuberant than in any other of his plays. As poetry, Lucifer represents Vondel at his loftiest, as drama it suffers from a lack of action. Right through the play the tension is built up towards the clash between the loyal and the rebellious angels. But the clash itself could not be shown on stage, and when the curtain goes up for the fifth act Lucifer has been defeated and the reversal of the situation has taken place without the audience having been able to watch it. The fault lies not so much in the writing or composition of the play, but in the choice of a subject that was essentially not suitable for dramatic treatment. Milton who hesitated between dramatic and epic form for Paradise Lost finally made the wiser choice, irrespective of whether his considerations were aesthetic or pragmatic. The similarities between Milton's poem and Vondel's play are so numerous that it has often been thought that Lucifer, which precedes Paradise Lost by thirteen years, may have influenced Milton. There are, however, no positive indications for this theory, and the similarities lose much of their conclusive force when one realizes how widespread the theme of the ‘celestial cycle’ was in European Renaissance literature, and that both Milton and Vondel had read Grotius's Latin drama Adamus Exul (1601).
Lucifer was performed only twice in 1654. Brandt tells us that it drew the fire of some Calvinist ministers who did not approve of bringing angels on to the stage. They accused Vondel of sacrilege and also attacked his approach to drama. They succeeded in imposing their will: further performances were forbidden and the publisher's stock was confiscated. The Burgomasters apparently did not pursue the matter any further, for seven new editions were published in the same year. But financially it was a disaster because the complicated set depicting the heavens had cost a fortune. To help the theatre out of its financial difficulties Vondel wrote a new play for which the same set could be used. This play, Salmoneus, dealing with a mythological subject, turned out to be a weak play and is also unlikely to have helped
financially as three years went by before it was performed.
The criticism that was made of Lucifer hurt Vondel deeply and from the preface of Jeptha, written in 1659, it appears that he set himself the task of writing a model tragedy which would prove all his critics wrong. Jeptha is a biblical play and dramatizes an episode from the Book of Judges. Jeptha is waging war and makes the promise that if he wins, he will sacrifice to God the first being to meet him when he returns home. He wins the battle, returns home and is met by his daughter Ifis. Jeptha feels bound to keep his promise, gives his daughter two months respite to prepare herself, and then sacrifices her. It was a well-known subject and Vondel was not the first writer to have been struck by its dramatic potential. Abraham de Koningh had written a Jeptha in 1615 and only nine years before Vondel's play Giacomo Carissimi's Latin oratorio Jepthe had had its first performance. But the most famous Jeptha had been written a hundred years earlier: George Buchanan's Latin drama Jephthes sive votum, published in 1554. In the seventeenth century Buchanan's play was still regarded as one of the best Latin dramas, also by Vondel, and Vondel consciously wrote his own play as an imitatio of Buchanan's. He had only one criticism to make: Buchanan had not observed the unity of time, i.e. he had incorporated in his play the period of two months' grace whereas the Aristotelian prescription allowed drama a scope of not more than twenty-four hours. Vondel corrected Buchanan by shifting the beginning of the play to the end of the two months. In doing so he sacrificed the drama of the first meeting between Ifis and Jeptha, but complying with the theory was of greater value to Vondel than making a theatrical effect. In the preface Vondel also elaborated on the construction of the play and pointed out that it was in every respect in accordance with the demands of the theorists: the difficulty about the unity of time had been solved, the unities of place and action had been observed, the mood of the characters changed several times, and the tragedy was enacted between close relatives. Though
the play ends after the death of Ifis, she does not die on stage, in compliance with a rule laid down by Horace. For the metre Vondel followed the advice of Ronsard and used ten and eleven syllable iambics instead of his customary alexandrines.
Aristotle, Horace, Scaliger, Heinsius, Vossius, Grotius, Ronsard, Buchanan, they are all quoted in the preface as the authorities whose precepts were worth following. Vondel was seventy-two when he wrote Jeptha and still eager to learn. Whether because of his preoccupation with theory, or in spite of it, Jeptha stands out as one of his most convincing plays. After the Baroque Lucifer, its most striking aspect is its simplicity. There is more understatement than overstatement, all extreme dramatic effects have been avoided, and the language, too, is sober, restrained, almost austere, which gives Jeptha a terseness that most of his other plays lack.
The period between 1659 and 1667 was an extremely productive time for Vondel. In those eight years he wrote no less than ten tragedies, apart from complete verse translations of King Oedipus and Iphigeneia in Tauris. From the same period date a long biblical epic, Joannes de Boetgezant (John, Preacher of Penitence) and two long didactic poems, Bespiegelingen van Godt en Godtsdienst (Contemplations of God and Religion), and De Heerlijckheit der Kercke (The Magnificence of the Church). The plays of this last period were predominantly biblical, dealing with King David, David's son Adoniah, Samson, Adam and Noah.
Adam in Ballingschap (Adam in Exile) bears the same title as Grotius's Adamus Exul and, like Jeptha, must be regarded as an imitatio in which the general line of Grotius's play was strictly followed. But Vondel was no longer a Seneca adept as Grotius was when he wrote his play. Vondel's guide was now Sophocles, which means that argumentativeness had made way for lyricism and that strong emphasis was placed on the reversal of the situation. Vondel's last play, Noah, is also a biblical play, but well distinguished from the others by the complexity of its
structure. On the face of it the structure seems to be a switchback to the earlier plays with an epic hero. Noah is represented in his supreme strength on the day of the Great Flood. There is no weakness in him, no hesitation, no wavering between good and bad. He is an epic hero, reminiscent of John the Baptist in Joannes. But on closer analysis it appears that next to Noah there is another leading character, the prince Ahiman, who is a tragic hero in the proper sense of the word, who wavers and who makes the fatal choice, and in whom the reversal of the situation is most dramatically shown. Noah was Vondel's last play and it is almost symbolic that he closed his dramatic oeuvre, at the age of eighty, with a combination of the two kinds of drama into which his work can be divided.
Vondel was a highly talented dramatist, but not a dramatic genius. Most of his plays suffer from one or more flaws, whether it is lack of action or longwinded descriptiveness, shallow psychology or hyperbolic style. He has sometimes been compared to Shakespeare, but if all comparisons are invidious, this one is particularly so. For imperfections apart, there is no play of Vondel which shows the same insight into human nature or the same awareness of psychological complexity as the best plays of Shakespeare do. Consequently, Vondel's drama never has the power to jolt a modern audience in the way Shakespeare still can. One admires the beauty of its poetry, the nicety of composition and the probity of the man behind the scenes, but in most cases one fails to be moved.
It was Vondel's achievement to develop Dutch Renaissance drama into something entirely his own. Strangely, it was to remain his own, for in spite of the great authority he held, his plays have found only a few imitators. In the last fifteen years of his life popular support for his plays waned and performances became infrequent. Adam in Ballingschap was not performed until 1910! The man who drew full houses was Jan Vos whose Aran en Titus stands out as one of the most bombastic plays of the century. It was a cheap
showpiece, full of murder, rape and torture, written in hollow grandiloquent verse. But its appeal was enormous, and also the intelligentsia - Hooft, Huygens, Barlaeus, even Vondel himself - praised it highly. ‘Seeing before saying’ was Vos's motto and with this emphasis on action he placed himself diametrically opposite Vondel's static dramas. The views of Jan Vos won and Vondel lost out. Then towards the end of the century, the plays of Jan Vos and his followers gave way to French classicist drama, and the classicists had their own criticism to make of Vondel's approach to drama. The result of all this was that Vondel was followed by no school and that his influence on the development of drama remained smaller than one might have expected. His epic Joannes de Boetgezant, on the other hand, had a great and long-lasting influence. Vondel was the first Dutch poet to write a biblical epic and after him the genre was widely practised until the middle of the eighteenth century.
As a lyricist, too, Vondel's influence was profound. Throughout his long life - he died in 1679 at the age of ninety-one - he wrote lyrical poetry of a tremendous variety: sonnets, odes, nuptial songs, elegies, eulogies, satires, religious poetry, poetic letters and so forth, all written in styles that range from great simplicity to Baroque exuberance. The most striking quality of all these poems is their easy flow and their musicality. It is curious that Vondel who took little interest in music wrote the most musical poetry of the century, much more so than Huygens who was a considerable musician and composer. Vondel's approach to poetry was essentially different from Hooft's and Huygens's. With a little exaggeration one might say that Hooft and Huygens never used two words when one would do whereas Vondel used two or more when they were available. His aim was not conciseness but richness. Not the intellectual, but the sensuous element is dominant in his work. His poetry therefore lacks the measured elegance of Hooft and the terseness of Huygens, but stands out in melodiousness and sonority. In musicality, colour, richness of vocabulary, and also themati-
cally, it often comes close to the poetry of his English contemporary Richard Crashaw, without the conceits, however, of which Crashaw was so fond. Vondel abhorred sophisticated wit and obscurity. We do not know what he thought of Crashaw's poetry - it is unlikely that he knew it - but when he read some translations of John Donne's work he reacted with a sarcastic poem in which he derided Donne's obscurity, calling him ‘that dark sun’.
The author of those Donne translations was Constantijn Huygens, the youngest of the four pre-eminent poets of the seventeenth century. He was born in The Hague in 1596 as the son of the Secretary to the State Council. His social background therefore was closer to Hooft's than to Vondel's or Bredero's. His father was a man of erudition who educated his children very much in the Renaissance tradition, with so much success that Huygens at an early age was proficient in Latin, Greek, French, English, German, Spanish and Italian. His earliest poetry, written at the age of eleven, was in Latin, and throughout his life he continued to write poetry in Latin as well as in Dutch, French, Italian and English. For a few years he studied law at Leiden, then left in 1618 to go to England as a diplomatic cadet with a Dutch mission. In 1620 he paid a second visit to England, this time as the secretary of the mission. He made several of these trips to England and they had a profound influence on his work. His Donne translations were written in 1630, but he probably came to know Donne's work in 1621 (in manuscript, for the first edition of Donne did not appear until 1633).
In 1621 also, after he had returned from his second visit to England, he wrote his first major poem: Batava Tempe, dat is 't Voorhout van 's-Gravenhage (Batava Temple, that is the Voorhout at the Hague). Batave Tempe, the Batavian (Dutch) Tempe valley, is a hymn to the Voorhout, a linden-lined avenue in The Hague. The plan of the poem is simple. In a good hundred stanzas it gives a description of the avenue in the four seasons - with much emphasis on its
summer beauty - and of the people who walk and talk there. The plan may be simple, the poetry is anything but simple. From his first work to his last, Huygens was a cerebral poet who did not express himself in lyrical effusion but in intellectual wit and subtlety. To him the poet's aim was to be eloquent, to show his ingenuity and his ability to give meaning to unusual combinations. His style has many points of contact with the mannerist styles of poets such as Marino in Italy, and Lyly, Donne and the Metaphysical School in England. It is doubtful whether any of these poets had a direct influence on his work, but it is clear that he knew their style and that his approach to poetry was comparable. Voorhout abounds in unusual and surprising expressions. Some seem rather laboured to the modern reader, some are so far-fetched that they fail to impress, but some are still very effective. The most striking examples are to be found in the two stanzas which consist entirely of circumlocutions for the sun: ‘Me you will not chase away, fierce shiner from up-high, nimble measurer of our days, compasser of years, roundabout eye, fog dissipater, summer bringer, day extender, fruit benefactor, animal biter, skin scorcher, blond wrecker, girl's hate, cloud drover, night chaser, moon surpriser, star thief, shadow splitter, torch bearer, thief betrayer, spectacles' help, linen bleacher, hair curler, all-see-er, never blind, dust disturber, sky roller, morning raiser, travellers' friend’.
A passage such as this is an extreme case, even for Huygens, but at the same time it was part of a literary tradition. One can find similar circumlocutions in Ronsard, in several Italian Renaissance poets, and in Dutch in Daniel Heinsius's Lofsang van Bacchus (Hymn of Bacchus), while even Vondel in his Rijnstroom (River Rhine) paid a brief tribute to the fashion. They were usually not meant very seriously, they were certainly not presented as the ne plus ultra of poetic expression, but rather as an intellectual entertainment, a ‘gaillardise’ as Ronsard called it, which gave the poet the opportunity to show his inventiveness and
originality in a lighthearted way. From this point of view Huygens's circumlocutions for the sun fitted well into his poem, for in spite of its terseness and occasional obscurity, it is essentially a lighthearted poem, playful and cheerful, and full of vitality. It was written as a hymn, but it has nothing in common with the loftiness of the traditional hymn. Huygens may moralize a little here and there, but he does not do it in a heavy-handed way. When he criticizes the silly sentimentality of the lovers in the Voorhout, the extravagant dresses of the girls, or the French phrases of the snob, his criticism is not made with angry seriousness, but in a tone of amusement. Yet the satirical observations are there, and after reading Voorhout one is not altogether surprised that in his next long poem Huygens turned to satire proper.
Back in England in 1621 he wrote Costelick Mal (Costly Folly), a long satirical poem on fashion. It is a satire more in form than in tone. It does contain some scathing criticism and some sharp attacks on extravagance and hypocrisy, but the general tone of the poem is one of reasoned argument rather than of biting satire. It has been suggested that personal circumstances prompted the writing of Costelick Mal. Huygens, who in spite of his father's eminent position, had been brought up in austere Calvinist surroundings, felt a little out of place among the splendid English courtiers. In his letters home he complained of his lack of money which prevented him from dressing as he should. He did not want to compete with the elegance of the English Court, but neither did he want to be conspicuous through lack of elegance. Taking this into account, Costelick Mal looks more like a rationalization of his own impecunious situation than like a satire of an evil that needed rooting out. The ending, with its resignation and recognition of fashion as something silly but inevitable, is remarkably mild for a satire. Also, Huygens was too reasonable a man to write a consistently one-sided satirical poem. And even if he had been really angry when he decided to write the poem, much of his anger may have been spent during the preparation of it, for he read
a great deal on the subject and made copious notes from various sources, among them John William's A Sermon of Apparell of 1620. It is also likely that he read Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy which appeared in 1621, the year in which Huygens began to write Costelick Mal. The extensive preparatory studies had the disadvantage of making Costelick Mal a much less spontaneous poem than Voorhout for which he read little and made few notes.
His volume Zedeprinten (Characters) also shows that he was well acquainted with contemporary English literature. The Character poetry had become very popular in England in the first half of the seventeenth century, particularly with the collections of Joseph Hall, John Stephens and Thomas Overbury. Huygens knew the English Character literature and eager as he always was to try his hand at something new, introduced it into Dutch literature. Some of the types described in Zedeprinten had also been dealt with by the English writers and were therefore rather derivative; others, such as An Ambassador, The Professor, The Rich Woman were entirely original. They are moralistic portraits, satirical and humorous, and written with a good deal of Huygens's special brand of sophisticated wit.
Real poetry to Huygens had to be intricate, even obscure. Real poetry, he said, needed elucidation. He made this statement in a note to his long poem Daghwerk (Daily Business), written between 1627 and 1638, and dealing with his daily life, his work and his attitude to it, his religious views, his views on poetry, and so on. In the same poem he turned the theory into practice by summarizing it stanza by stanza in prose. Not every seventeenth-century writer agreed with his opinion that obscurity was the hall-mark of good poetry. Vondel reacted strongly to his Donne translations, and the poet and playwright Willem van Focquenbroch, a great believer in simplicity in literature, attacked him and Hooft for the demands they made on their readers. ‘It seems’, Focquenbroch wrote in a poem addressed to Huygens, ‘that you and Hooft are constantly trying to be
understood by no one else but yourselves. How sad it is, how silly, when a man does not have the talent to say something in poetry without having to explain it again in prose’. One can understand Focquenbroch's annoyance, for Daghwerk is a notoriously difficult poem, but his diagnosis was wrong: it was not a matter of being unable to write simply, but a conscious effort to avoid it. When Huygens wanted to write simply, he could do so as well as anyone else, as he showed on several occasions.
His only play Trijntje Cornelis (1653), though also notorious for its difficulty, is basically very simple. It describes the adventures of the wife of a barge skipper from Holland who goes on a spree in Antwerp and finds herself the morning after robbed of all her clothes, lying on the rubbish-heap. Situation, plot and action are simple enough, and the difficulties which the modern reader finds on his way are this time not due to Huygens's obscurity, sophistication, mannerism or whatever one would like to call it, but to the dialects which he used: broad Holland and broad Antwerp. The play, which is an excellent piece of theatre, delights in farcical situations and scabrous detail, and shows with great candour the down-to-earth, crude and sometimes vulgar side of Huygens's personality which was just as real as his aristocratic sophistication. Voorhout and Costelick Mal occasionally give some indication of it, but it found full expression in his play and also in several other poems, particularly in his epigrams, a form to which he seems to have been addicted as he wrote hundreds upon hundreds of them throughout his life.
These two sides of Huygens's personality are puzzling to the modern reader who is often tempted to minimize the vulgar side or to gloss it over indulgently as a slight aberration of an otherwise great man. But a complex personality cannot be reduced to a simple one by ignoring some of its characteristics, and if one wants to understand Huygens properly one must accept the fact that his personality was complex, even if the various traits sometimes
seem to be in open conflict with one another.
Huygens was an extremely well-educated man, not to the point of being a great scholar in any particular field, but well-versed in so many subjects that he came closer to the Renaissance ideal of the uomo universale than anyone else in the Netherlands. He was an excellent judge of painting, a musician with many compositions to his name, a linguist who had few equals, a diplomat knighted by James II, a writer with many international connections, who counted among his friends and correspondents such people as John Donne, Francis Bacon, Daniel Heinsius, Descartes, Cornelis Drebbel, Ben Jonson and Pierre Corneille. The high level of sophistication suggested by all this was certainly there, but at the same time there was in Huygens a coarseness which was just as much part of his personality as was his refinement. He was on the one hand the most modern Dutch writer of his time, fully alive to the new developments in poetry abroad. It is significant for instance that he even wrote a number of poems in blank verse. On the other hand he was capable of the kind of humour that was not far removed from the crudest medieval farce.
In his emotional life, too, one finds similar contradictions. He was on the whole well-balanced and rational, a Christian Stoic like Hooft. Yet there are also letters and poems of his - De Uytlandighe Herder (The Exiled Shepherd) for example - which show that he was very vulnerable and easily depressed, prone to attacks of melancholy. He could be smug and self-satisfied, as in some passages of Daghwerk, and at the same time rather uncertain of himself. His personality was a good deal more complex than that of Vondel or Bredero, and the reflection of it on paper certainly looks less, harmonious than that of Hooft. He also lacked Hooft's religious tolerance. Huygens was an ardent Calvinist and very anti-Roman Catholic. When Maria Tesselschade, a close friend of his and Hooft's was converted to Roman Catholicism, Huygens did his utmost to bring her back to Protestantism, whereas there is no evidence at all that
Hooft ever tried to exert any influence in this direction. Also, Huygens was a far more pronounced moralist than either Hooft, Vondel or Bredero; his moralism, in fact, is so prominent that he has often been bracketed with Jacob Cats, the greatest moralist of his time and far and away the most popular writer of the seventeenth century.
Jacob Cats was almost twenty years older than Huygens and was an enthusiastic though slightly paternal admirer of his. Costelick Mal had been dedicated to him and he had reciprocated with two laudatory poems in which he praised Huygens as a teacher of morals. But granted their common interest in moralism, it would be difficult to extend the parallel much further. For Cats was primarily a didactic writer whereas Huygens was not. Moralist though Huygens may have been, his main interest in writing was aesthetic. He was always greatly interested in form, in experimenting with form, with metre, rhyme and rhythm, with ways of expression. Everything he wrote gives evidence of his tremendous interest in aesthetic matters, as do his theoretical exchanges with Hooft on syllable quantity and his attempts to convince Corneille of the necessity of regular accentuation in French poetry.
In the work of Cats one finds nothing of the kind. Cats opted for the alexandrine and never moved away from it. Metrical and rhythmical experimentation, even the variations allowed by the alexandrine, were taboo to him. He must have been completely insensitive to rhythm; metre, a strict invariable alternation of accented and unaccented syllables, was all. His lines drone on with the imperturbability of a metronome and have a soporific effect that is matched by no other poet. Yet his comtemporaries were enormously taken by his work, so much so that in many households the only books present were the Bible and a volume of Cats. His editions were incomparably larger than those of any other writer of his time. In 1655 a volume of his poetry was published in 5000 copies, the kind of edition of which Vondel, Hooft and Huygens could only dream - if they had
been interested. Since the middle of the nineteenth century Cats's reputation as a poet has gone steadily downhill; it cannot sink much lower, and it seems unlikely ever to rise high again.
The writers discussed so far, were, with the exception of Hooft, predominantly poets and dramatists. Creative prose was a genre not practised by the major writers. Vondel wrote one essay on poetry and the poet, in an excellent style which makes one wish that he had turned to prose more often. Huygens and Bredero stayed away from prose altogether. Yet outside the group of major writers some very interesting prose books were written. There is, for instance, a fairly large collection of travel stories, mainly descriptions of voyages to the East and West Indies, America, China etc., several of which have been translated into English and have been published by the Hakluyt Society. Outstanding among these travel books is the Journal of Willem Bontekoe, a very readable account of his ill-fated voyage to the Indies. Among the other prose writers mention should be made of Joan de Brune who in 1657 published a large book of moralistic but often humorous prose pieces under the title of Bankket-werk van Goede Gedagten (Banquet of Good Thoughts), and of Adriaan Poirters whose Het Masker van de Werelt Afghetrocken (The World's Mask Pulled Away), of 1646, became one of the most widely read books of the century.
Examples of the novel are scarce in the seventeenth century. Perhaps one might include the prose pastoral under the early forms of novel writing. Quite a few were published in the Netherlands in this period, most of them strongly under the influence of Honoré d'Urfé's Astrée of 1610. The best known example of this genre in Dutch is Johan van Heemskerk's Batavische Arcadia (Batavian Arcady), published in 1637. It is a curious hybrid: a didactic and moralistic work which gives a survey of Dutch history but which is set within the framework of a pleasure trip to the coast made by a group of fashionable ladies and gentlemen who liven up the historical discourse with lighthearted talk about love.
Closer to the modern novel were the picaresque novels, the best of which was written by Nicolaas Heinsius, grandson of Daniel Heinsius and a man who led a picaresque life before he put it down on paper. He became a medical doctor at twenty, was exiled from the Netherlands because of manslaughter, wandered through Europe for many years, was at one time personal physician to Christina of Sweden, at another to the Elector of Brandenburg. Many of his own adventures are recorded in the book which made him famous, Den Vermakelijken Avanturier (The Amusing Adventurer), published in 1695. It is not a book that excels in character development or analysis since it consists simply of an entertaining string of adventures, well-told and observed with a shrewd eye for the ridiculous and the phony. The book was a great success, in the Netherlands as well as abroad: it went through many Dutch editions and was translated into French, English, Italian and German.
Occasional successes such as that of Heinsius apart, the work of the poets completely overshadowed that of the prose writers. And again, the work of Vondel, Hooft, Huygens and Bredero overshadowed that of a large number of other poets who would probably have secured a more conspicuous place in the history of literature if they had lived in another period. This is true of Jacob Revius, of Heiman Dullaert, of Jacob Westerbaen perhaps, of Jan Starter, Dirck Camphuysen and Joannes Stalpart van der Wiele. It is also very true of Willem van Focquenbroch.
For a long time Focquenbroch has been denied the recognition that is due to him, because his work does not harmonize easily with the tone of loftiness which dominated seventeenth-century poetry. Focqenbroch took no interest in loftiness except as a subject of parody. His poetry is unembellished, straightforward and simple, far removed from the grand style of Vondel, the refinement of Hooft and the mannerism of Huygens. Focquenbroch was a thoroughly disillusioned man, a medical doctor whose debts and an unhappy love affair seem to have driven him out of the
Netherlands to the West Coast of Africa where he lived out his life. His work reads as a very honest record of his feelings and opinions, and shows him to have been a great pessimist and cynic, who yet all the time rebelled against his fate and who bitterly resented the life he was leading, without ever becoming tearful about it. His work is related to the burlesques of Paul Scarron in France, and in Holland to the earthy comedies of Bredero and Huygens's Trijntje Cornelis . Most of his work is lyrical poetry, love poetry and anti-love poetry, anecdotal and occasional poetry, but he is also known for an entertaining comedy, De Min in het Lazarushuys (Love in the Madhouse).
As was stated at the beginning of this chapter the South did not share equally with the North in the creativity of the Netherlands in the seventeenth century. The most important southern poet in the early years of the century was Justus de Harduwijn who wrote a volume of typical Renaissance poetry under the title of De Weerlycke Liefden tot Roosemond (The Profane Love for Roosemond), full of reminiscences of the Pléiade poets, it is true, but important because of its elegant diction and a mastery of the sonnet form which was unusual in the early years of the century. The volume was completed in 1605 - though not published until 1613 - and it shows clearly that in those years a writer like De Harduwijn was still ahead of most of his northern contemporaries. It was also a southerner, Richard Verstegen, who wrote a volume of Characters (in prose) four years before Huygens introduced the genre into northern literature. In the second half of the century the South produced a poet and playwright of some note in Michiel de Swaen whose De Gecroonde Leersse (The Crowned Boot) is still occasionally performed. After that, the literature of the South went into hibernation until the middle of the nineteenth century.