Holland's Influence on English Language and Literature

auteur: Tiemen de Vries

bron: Tiemen de Vries, Holland's Influence on English Language and Literature. C. Grentzebach, Chicago 1916  



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Chapter XXX Religious Literature. Brownists, Separatists or Independents, Baptists, Congregationalists, Quakers, Presbyterians, Methodists.

The influence of religious ideas and movements on the literature of a nation can hardly be overestimated, and yet is often treated with very moderate attention. In Dante's Divine Comoedia we should not have a Purgatory if Dante had not been a Roman Catholic; Voltaire never would have written his many satires, full of literary beauty, if he had not been an eighteenth century Rationalist and Deist; Milton's Paradise Lost and Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress are inseparably connected with the ideas of the Independents, and with the religious struggle of the different Protestant denominations in England during the seventeenth century. That great religious struggle of the Reformation, as far as the whole people took part, in it, developed in England much later than in Germany, France, and the Netherlands. In the latter countries it happened during the sixteenth century, while at that time in England the great event was only the establishing of the Anglican Church. But the real Reformation, among and by the masses of the English people, the real struggle for Presbyterianism, for Congregationalism, for the Baptist views, took place in the seventeenth century, against the Party of the Stuarts. That struggle, although preparing its way since the last

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part of the sixteenth century, found its historical zenith in the time of Cromwell, and got at last its final decision in the glorious Revolution of 1688 under William III of Orange. Before the deciding period of the real Reformation in England arrived, during a great part of the sixteenth, and the beginning of the seventeenth century, the continual influence of Protestant ideas introduced from the Continent, and especially from the Netherlands, was working among the masses of the English people, preparing the way for the different religious denominations, which were destined to play such an important part in later English history, and to find their adequate reflection in English literature. During the persecutions under Charles V, beginning immediately after the edict of Worms in 1521, with the introduction of the inquisition in the Netherlands, thousands fled from that country, and a great part of them, most of whom were Anabaptists, took refuge in England. At the time of the arrival of the Duke of Alva in the Netherlands in 1567, probably one hundred thousand people fled from the country, half of them crossing the channel to find safety in England. They all settled at London, and in the eastern districts of England, where, during centuries, for economic reasons, Dutch settlements had existed. These thousands of Protestant refugees were for a great part Anabaptists, preaching rejection of infant baptism, separation from the established church, priesthood of all believers, the formation of churches by ‘a company of Christians or believers who, by a willing covenant made with their God, are under the government of God and Christ and keep His laws in one holy communion,’ as Robert Browne defines it. Now refugees, who sacrifice everything for the principles they

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confess, are always the most zealous and most successful propagandists, because they show with their lives the sincerity of their preaching. And the mass of the English people was ripe for these numerous and sincere missionaries of Dutch Protestantism. The University of Cambridge, which is nearer to these eastern districts in England, happened to be the most progressive one, and among its graduates we soon find learned men, who adopted the Continental Protestant ideas of the refugees, and who became natural leaders of the new movement in England. Robert Browne was the first prominent man of the kind, and after him the first converted English people were called either Brownists, or, because they preached separation from the established church. Separatists, or, as they propagated the independency of the churches from the state, they were also called Independents. Among those people who were variously called Brownists, or Separatists, or Independents, as soon as they became more numerous, churches were formed, to which they themselves gave the names either of Baptists, where they laid stress on the rejection of infant baptism, or of Congregationalists, where the equality of the members, and the priesthood of all believers was put in the foreground. It is here that we find the first beginning of the denominations of Baptists and Congregationalists, today so numerous in England and America.

Later we find the rise of the Quakers under George Fox, and William Penn, and still later that of the Methodists, under Wesley and Whitefield, while at the same time the Presbyterians became powerful all over England and Scotland. Finally in the eighteenth century we see in England the rise of Rationalism and Deism, and after that time the development of Pantheism.

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It is interesting to trace the influence of the Netherlands on the rise and development of every one of these religious movements. To begin with the Brownists, those first, Separatists or Independents, as they were called, we know that Robert Browne, after being graduated from Cambridge, began to preach, and that ‘the vehemence of his character gained him a reputation with the people,’ and ‘being a fiery, hotheaded young man, he went about the countries inveighing against the discipline and ceremonies of the Church, and exhorting the people by no means to comply with them.’1 We know that he became the founder of those first Separatist Churches, which were called Brownists, or Barrowists. In the year 1592 the Brownists were estimated by Walter Raleigh to number twenty thousand2 and they were soon divided into those who called themselves Congregationalists, and others who called themselves Baptists. And about this same Robert Browne, the founder of the Separatists or Independents, and more especially of the Congregationalists and Baptists, we read that after he left Cambridge University, he lived ‘for about a year among some Dutch emigrants in the diocese of Norfolk,’3 and that he, persecuted by the bishops, ‘retired with several friends to Zealand, at Middelburg.’ ‘In that then cradle of liberty, they constituted themselves into a church;’ and the press being unrestrained in the Netherlands, the pastor published his doctrine in a book entitled: ‘A book which showeth the life and Manners of all true Christians; and how unlike they are unto Turks and Papists and Heathen folk.4 Also the Points and Parts of all Di-

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vinity, that is, of the revealed Will and Word of God, are declared by their several Definitions and Divisions, in order as followeth, etc.’ An outline of this fundamental book for all the further development of Congregationalism and Baptism is given by Hanbury.1

So we see that from the very first starting point Robert Browne adopted the ideas of the Dutch Anabaptist refugees in England, and developed his ideas in founding the English Separatist Church at Middelburg, where they were protected by the special order of William the Silent, and where Browne found an opportunity to develop his ideas, to write his books, and have them printed, whence they were spread over England. In England every endeavor to establish a Separatist congregation was prevented, but in the Netherlands, at Middelburg, Separatists found refuge and protection as early as the year 1581. In her dealings with the origins of the powerful denominations of Congregationalists and Baptists, Queen Elizabeth did not show serself the so-often-praised ‘Good Queen Beth,’ but a bloody, persecuting sovereign, a woman careless about religion, who swore like a soldier every day,2 while her separatist subjects sighed in prison or were put to death.3 It was during the last twenty years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, that many of the Separatists (Brownists, Independents) fled to the Netherlands, while after the death of Elizabeth, under James I, many more followed their example. Amsterdam became, after Middelburg, the place of refuge, and soon the greatest center of the English Separatists, and after 1609 Leyden also gave hospitality to a

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number of them, who formed a congregation under the well-known leaders John Robinson and William Brewster. This congregation at Leyden was that of the Pilgrims, a part of whom in the year 1620 crossed the ocean on the Mayflower and landed at Plymouth rock.1 Although the ideas of all these English Separatists did not differ very much; and approached those of the Anabaptists, as they were recognized and taught by Menno Simons (1492-1559), their eminent leader; yet some of them laid more stress upon a congregational form of church government; others put in the foreground the rejection of infant baptism, and other questions; and so it happened that, under their different ministers, they laid the foundations for different denominations. The churches at Middelburg and Leyden are to be considered as the First Congregational churches, while at Amsterdam in the year 1611 a number of the English Separatists called themselves Baptists. But as soon as it was safe to return to England, these people crossed the Channel again, and in the year 1611 the First Baptist Church went from Amsterdam to England, while in 1616 the First Congregational Church was established in the British Isles.

The movement of the Friends, or, as they soon were called, the Quakers began several years later, but was no less under the influence of Holland than were the first Congregationalists and Baptists. The two great founders of Quakerism were George Fox and William Penn.

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Speaking of George Fox, the English founder of the sect, Barclay, the best authority upon the subject, himself a member of the Society, says, in a discussion of the doctrines of the Menonites: ‘So closely do these views correspond with those of George Fox, that we are compelled to view him viz., Menno Simons as the unconscious exponent of the doctrine, practice, and discipline of the ancient and strict party of the Dutch Mennonites, at a period when, under the pressure of the times, some deviation took place among the General Baptists from their original principles.’1 It is an interesting fact in this connection that Sewel's History of the Quakers, the pioneer book upon this subject, was written in Dutch. Sewel was born at Amsterdam in 1654, and in his family we have the pedigree of the Quakers. His grandfather was an English Brownist, or Separatist. His father became a Baptist, and so continued until 1657, when he joined the Quakers.’2.

To this interesting fact, mentioned by Campbell, we may add another equally as interesting one; viz., that an English translation of several works of Menno Simons was published in the year 1863 by Elias Barr and Co., at Lancaster in Pennsylvania, the State of the Quakers, and all the works of Menno Simons were translated into English and published in 1871 at Elkhart, Indiana, a state in which many Quakers from Pennsylvania have settled.

‘Thus it is,’ says Campbell, ‘that the Quakers of England trace their descent back through the English Separatists to the Mennonites of Holland. But for those of America there is even a closer connection. William Penn's mother was a Dutch woman, and a

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very notable one, the daughter of John Jasper of Rotterdam, ‘Dutch Peg,’ according to Pepys, the charming gossip, had more wit than her English husband, who, at the time of their marriage, was a captain in the navy, soon to become an admiral.1 Her son, the founder of Pennsylvania, was, like Roger Williams, a thorough Dutch scholar. He had travelled extensively in Holland, and preached to the Quakers of that country in their native tongue.’2

The indebtedness of the Methodists, as adherents of that great movement in America which numbers more than forty-six thousand churches, are called, to the Netherlands, is not less important, and is recognized in almost every book on the history of Methodism. With the exception of the Welsh branch, the Methodists from the time of Wesley have adopted the Arminian doctrine, and from the start found all the sources for their fundamental ideas ready in the elaborate works of the Dutch Arminians. Holland was the home of Arminians and of the great struggle between Arminianism and Calvinism which culminated in the first period in the famous Synod of Dordrecht in the years 1618 and 1619.

‘That little country,’ says Curtiss in his book on Arminianism in History, ‘on the northwest coast of Europe, which had been rescued from the sea by the hard and persistent labor of the people, was the early home of two great classes of thought, founded upon a solid basis - Puritanism and Arminianism.’ The great classic authors of Arminianism and consequently of Methodism, men like Jacobus Arminius, Simon Episcopius, Hugo Grotius, and many others, are to be found in the Netherlands, and their lives and works

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are inseparably connected with the history of Holland. After the Synod of Dordrecht in 1618 and 1619, the Arminian ministers had to leave the country, so that they became missionaries of Arminianism, but this banishment, or persecution, as we may call it, although in a milder sense than the word persecution had in those days, did not last very long, and was not more severe than what the Arminian magistrates in cities like Schoonhoven, Utrecht, Rotterdam and other places had attempted before the Synod of Dordrecht. The political head and leader of the Arminians had even tried in 1617 with his ‘Sharp resolve,’ to raise troops for the Province of Holland against the States General, and so really to break the union of the state in a period when that union was more necessary, than it was for the United States at the time of the civil war. We must therefore not be surprised, when immediately after the Synod of Dordt, which was a triumph of the Calvinists over the Arminians, at least for a short time, some measures were taken against the Arminians. Very soon the Remonstrant ministers were admitted again to the country, and in 1634 a Remonstrant's College was opened at Amsterdam, which college became a great nursery for Arminian theology, where several of the best Arminian scholars laid the foundations for the great Arminian movement, which later developed in England and America. There in Amsterdam we find the prominent Arminian professors and scholars, Simon Episcopius, Stephanus Curcellaeus, Arnold Poelenburg, Philip Limborch, John Le Clerc, Adrian van Cattenburgh, and John James Wettstein.

In most books on the history of Arminianism, little stress is laid on the name of one man who, however, played a very important part in the movement, the

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man who really converted and strengthened Jacobus Arminius, at a time when Arminius himself was sceptical and hesitant about which direction to take, on those questions which later on divided the Calvinists from the Arminians. This man was Dirk Volkerts Coornhert, who, therefore, deserves the title of spiritual father of Arminianism. Coornhert was a great scholar and a man of great literary and philosophical ability, who, in the most troublesome time of the great struggle for liberty, took a place of honor. Born at Amsterdam in 1522, he studied several languages, French, Spanish, Greek and Latin; was personally acquainted with William the Silent, who in 1567 invited him to his castle Dillenburg, to advise him about the situation in the Netherlands; he suffered exile and even imprisonment from the Spaniards, while his wife horror-stricken, died of the plague; held about the same broadminded ideas of toleration even towards Roman Catholics in Protestant cities, which were held by the Prince of Orange; and as far as Arminianism is concerned, had several disputes, and even public debates, with Calvanistic ministers, amongst others with Professor Saravia of the Leyden University, long before Arminius appeared on the stage of history. And when Arminius, at that time still estimated as a good Calvinist, and a great scholar, was appointed to try to convert Coornhert, it happened that the old well-trained scholar and philosopher, was a too powerful match for the young Arminius, who, instead of converting Coornhert, was himself converted to the principles of Coornhert. This spiritual father of Arminius, and of Arminianism, died at Gouda in the year 1590. In the Dutch national biography of Van der Aa is given a list of forty-four books and pamphlets, political, theological, and literary, written by

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Coornhert, too many to be repeated here. Since the days of Coornhert and Arminius, the line of Arminian scholars has never been interrupted, and since Wesley started his movement in England, and Methodism spread all over England and America, the Arminian scholars have always found and will always find, in the Netherlands, not only the cradle of Arminianism, but also the great classics of Arminianism, to whose scholarly investigations they have to go back, to find out that nowadays there is not much that is new under the sun.

In his book on Arminianism in History, George L. Curtiss, on p. 70, makes a statement that has a strange sound to those who are acquainted with Dutch history, and especially with the struggle between Calvinism and Arminianism. He says: ‘The Calvinists demanded the support of the State and that there should not be toleration of other sentiments; the Arminians demanded that there should be perfect toleration, and that the State should not decide the one or the other as being true.’ This statement is not true to history. The author himself knows it, and shows that he knows better, when he writes on page 154; ‘The Arminians, while denying predestination, proclaimed a practical theory which was more important to the people than any gone before in the struggle to found a republic. They claimed that in religious matters the State was supreme, that it should appoint the ministers, and that it alone should have the regulation of Church discipline and dogma.’ The truth is that all parties and all denominations at that time, Roman Catholics, Calvinists and Arminians were intolerant, that none of them believed in equal freedom for every denomination, and that they all claimed the power of the State to give their own denomination the

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predominant place and to suppress every other opinion. Only very few men were far enough ahead of their time to declare themselves in favor of real toleration. William the Silent, the father of his country, and Coornhert, the father of Arminianism, are two examples of men who stood for toleration in a very early period of the great struggle, and they were great exceptions. The fact is that as far as the practical application of the principle of toleration is concerned, there was not a state in the world during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, where a greater freedom and toleration was given to every denomination than the Reformed State of the Netherlands; consequently the refugees from all countries fled to the Netherlands.

And another surprising fact is, that, even till in our present time, the principle of intolerance has been maintained in Art. 36 of the Confession of the Dutch Reformed Church, and even in the Confession of the free reformed, or Separatist-churches in Holland, notwithstanding the gravamina of the most prominent theologians against that article, a fact very interesting from a psychological point of view. At a time when the fundamental ideas of Arminianism, and consequently of Methodism, were still in their first period of growth, there was a fully-developed set of principles, inspiring the life of hundreds of churches in France, in Holland, in England, and in Scotland. These principles, first systematically explained in the Institutes of John Calvin, were then adopted by the Huguenots in France, by the Reformed in the Netherlands, and by the Presbyterians in England and Scotland. These principles were called Calvinism after the great leader of the movement, John Calvin, just as Arminianism later on was so named after Ar-

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minius. And this movement too had its greatest stronghold for a long time in the Netherlands. At a time when the Huguenots in France, and the Puritans, later the Presbyterians in England and Scotland, were subject to the severest persecutions, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands were flourishing. Refugees from France and from England fled to the hospitable shores of the United Provinces, and found there the full development and practice of the same principles, which the persecuting powers in France and in England were trying to extirpate. In that Calvinism was, according to the best historians,1 the strength of the resistance of Holland, in its struggle against Spain. The famous National Synod of Dordt in 1618 and 1619 was Calvinistic through and through, and at the same time the only real ecumenic counsel of the Protestant churches ever held, as it included delegates from churches of all the nations where Calvinistic Protestantism had got any foothold, except the French churches, whose seats in the Synod remained empty, because the French king did not allow them to be represented. That Synod was the forerunner, and the foundation of the great Westminster Assembly held twenty years later. It was not only by this Synod of Dordt, and by Dutch influence on refugees, but especially by the great number of scholars and professors in the Dutch Universities that Holland took a leading part in the development of Presbyterianism. The Universities of Leyden, founded in 1574, Utrecht, founded in 1636, Groningen, founded in 1614, and Franeker, founded in 1624, were the strongholds of Calvinism; and many students from England came to the Netherlands, especially to

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Leyden, to follow the courses, and to imbibe the republican and Calvinistic spirit prevailing in ‘the Low Countries.’ Books by Dutch professors were commonly written in Latin, the international language of the scholars of that time, so that the Dutch language presented no obstacle at all. By the agency of English ministers, among whom were many good scholars, Dutch Calvinism and closely connected with it, Dutch republicanism, and democracy, entered into the English churches, into the life and the spirit of the English people, and were reflected in English literature.