Page:EB1911 - Volume 08.djvu/751

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


724
DUTCH LITERATURE

having been the first to take advantage of the growing dissension in the body of the old chamber of the Eglantine to form a new institution. In 1617 Coster founded what he called the “First Dutch Academy.” This was in fact a theatre, where, for the first time, dramas could be publicly acted under the patronage of no chamber of rhetoric. Coster himself had come before the world in 1612 with his farce of Teuwis the Boor, based on a folk-song in Jan Roulans’s Liedekens Boeckh, and he continued this order of composition in direct emulation of Bredero, but with less talent. In 1615 he began a series of “blood-and-thunder” tragedies with his horrible Itys, and he continued this coarse style of tragic writing for several years. He survived at least until after 1648 as a supreme authority in Amsterdam upon all dramatic matters.

The first work of the greatest of all Dutch writers, Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679), was Het Pascha (1612), a tragedy or tragi-comedy on the exodus of the children of Israel, written, like all his succeeding dramas, on the Vondel. recognized Dutch plan, in alexandrines, in five acts, and with choral interludes between the acts. There is comparatively little promise in Het Pascha. It was much inferior dramatically to the plays just being produced by Bredero, and metrically to the clear and eloquent tragedies and pastorals of Hooft; but it secured the young poet a position inferior only to theirs. Yet for a number of years he made no attempt to emphasize the impression he had produced on the public, but contented himself during the years that are the most fertile in a poet’s life with translating and imitating portions of du Bartas’s popular epic. The short and brilliant life of Bredero, his immediate contemporary and greatest rival, burned itself out in a succession of dramatic victories, and it was not until two years after the death of that great poet that Vondel appeared before the public with a second tragedy, the Jerusalem laid Desolate. Five years later, in 1625, he published what seemed an innocent study from the antique, his tragedy of Palamedes, or Murdered Innocence. All Amsterdam discovered, with smothered delight, that under the name of the hero was thinly concealed the figure of Barneveldt, whose execution in 1618 had been a triumph of the hated Calvinists. Thus, at the age of forty-one, the obscure Vondel became in a week the most famous writer in Holland. For the next twelve years, and till the accession of Prince Frederick Henry, Vondel had to maintain a hand-to-hand combat with the “Saints of Dort.” This was the period of his most resolute and stinging satires; Cats took up the cudgels on behalf of the counter-Remonstrants, and there raged a war of pamphlets in verse. A purely fortuitous circumstance led to the next great triumph in Vondel’s slowly developing career. The Dutch Academy, founded in 1617 almost wholly as a dramatic gild, had become so inadequately provided with stage accommodation that in 1638, having coalesced with the two chambers of the “Eglantine” and the “White Lavender,” it ventured on the erection of a large public theatre, the first in Amsterdam. Vondel, as the greatest poet of the day, was invited to write a piece for the first night; on the 3rd of January 1638 the theatre was opened with the performance of a new tragedy out of early Dutch history, the famous Gysbreght van Aemstel. The next ten years were rich in dramatic work from Vondel’s hand; he supplied the theatre with heroic Scriptural pieces, of which the general reader will obtain the best idea if we point to the Athalie of Racine. In 1654, having already attained an age at which poetical production is usually discontinued by the most energetic of poets, he brought out the most exalted and sublime of all his works, the tragedy of Lucifer. Very late in life, through no fault of his own, financial ruin fell on the aged poet, and from 1658 to 1668—that is, from his seventieth to his eightieth year—this venerable and illustrious person, the main literary glory of Holland through her whole history, was forced to earn his bread as a common clerk in a bank, miserably paid, and accused of wasting his masters’ time by the writing of verses. The city released him at last from this wretched bondage by a pension, and the wonderful old man went on writing odes and tragedies almost to his ninetieth year. He died at last in 1679, of no disease, having outlived all his contemporaries and almost all his friends, but calm, sane and good-humoured to the last, serenely conscious of the legacy he left to a not too grateful country. Vondel is the typical example of Dutch intelligence and imagination at their highest development. Not merely is he to Holland all that Camoens is to Portugal and Mickiewicz to Poland, but he stands on a level with these men in the positive value of his writings.

Lyrical art was represented on its more spontaneous side by the songs and ballads of Jan Janssen Starter (b. 1594), an Englishman by birth, who was brought to Amsterdam in his thirteenth year. Very early in life he was made Starter. a member of the “Eglantine,” and he worked beside Bredero for two years; but in 1614 he wandered away to Leeuwarden, in Friesland, where he founded a literary gild, and brought out, in 1618, his plays Timbre de Cardone, Fenicie van Messine, the subject of which is identical with that of Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing, and Daraïda. But his great contribution to literature was his exquisite collection of lyrics, entitled the Friesche Lusthof, or Frisian Pleasance (1621). He returned to Amsterdam, but after 1625 we hear no more of him, and he is believed to have died as a soldier in Germany. The songs of Starter are in close relation to the lyrics of the English Elizabethans, and have the same exquisite simplicity and audacity of style.

While the genius of Holland clustered around the circle of Amsterdam, a school of scarcely less brilliance arose in Middelburg, the capital of Zealand. The ruling spirit of this school was the famous Jakob Cats (1577-1660). Cats. In this voluminous writer, to whom modern criticism almost denies the name of poet, the genuine Dutch habit of thought, the utilitarian and didactic spirit which we have already observed in Houwaert and in Boendale, reached its zenith of fluency and popularity. During early middle life he produced the most important of his writings, his pastoral of Galathea, and his didactic poems, the Maechdenplicht and the Sinne- en Minne-Beelden. In 1624 he removed from Middelburg to Dort, where he soon after published his tedious ethical work called Houwelick, or Marriage; and this was followed from time to time by one after another of his monotonous moral pieces. Cats is an exceedingly dull and prosaic writer, whose alexandrines roll smoothly on without any power of riveting the attention or delighting the fancy. Yet his popularity with the middle classes in Holland has always been immense, and his influence extremely hurtful to the growth of all branches of literary art. Among the disciples of Cats, Jakob Westerbaen (1599-1670) was the most successful. His works included translations from Virgil, Ovid, Seneca, Terence and Juvenal, besides original poems. The Jesuit Adriaen Poirters (1606-1675) closely followed Cats in his remarkable Masquer of the World. A poet of Amsterdam, Jan Hermansz Krul (1602-1644), preferred to follow the southern fashion, and wrote didactic pieces in the Catsian manner.

A poet of dignified imagination and versatile form was Sir Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687), the diplomatist. He threw in his lot with the great school of Amsterdam, and became the intimate friend and companion of Vondel, Huygens. Hooft and the daughters of Roemer Visscher. His famous poem in praise of the Hague, Batava Tempe, appeared in 1622, and was, from a technical point of view, the most accomplished and elegant poem till that time produced in Holland. His collected poems, Otiorum libri sex, were printed in 1625. Oogentroost, or Eye Consolation, was the fantastic title of a remarkable poem dedicated in 1647 to his blind friend, Lucretia van Trello. He printed in 1654 a topographical piece describing his own mansion, Hofwijck. Huygens represents the direction in which it would have been desirable that Dutch literature, now completely founded by Hooft and Vondel, should forthwith proceed, while Cats represents the tame and mundane spirit which was actually adopted by the nation. Huygens had little of the sweetness of Hooft or of the sublimity of Vondel, but his genius was eminently bright and vivacious, and he was a consummate