1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bilderdijk, Willem

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BILDERDIJK, WILLEM (1756-1831), Dutch poet, the son of an Amsterdam physician, was born on the 7th of September 1756. When he was six years old an accident to his foot incapacitated him for ten years, and he developed habits of continuous and concentrated study. His parents were ardent partisans of the house of Orange, and Bilderdijk grew up with strong monarchical and Calvinistic convictions. He was, says Da Costa, “anti-revolutionary, anti-Barneveldtian, anti-Loevesteinish, anti-liberal.” After studying at Leiden University, he obtained his doctorate in law in 1782, and began to practise as an advocate at the Hague. Three years later he contracted an unhappy marriage with Rebecca Woesthoven. He refused in 1795 to take the oath to the new administration, and was consequently obliged to leave Holland. He went to Hamburg, and then to London, where his great learning procured him consideration. There he had as a pupil Katharina Wilhelmina Schweickhardt (1776-1830), the daughter of a Dutch painter and herself a poet. When he left London in June 1797 for Braunschweig, this lady followed him, and after he had formally divorced his first wife (1802) they were married. In 1806 he was persuaded by his friends to return to Holland. He was kindly received by Louis Napoleon, who made him his librarian, and a member and eventually president (1809-1811) of the Royal Institute. After the abdication of Louis Napoleon he suffered great poverty; on the accession of William of Orange in 1813 he hoped to be made a professor, but was disappointed and became a history tutor at Leiden. He continued his vigorous campaign against liberal ideas to his death, which took place at Haarlem on the 18th of December 1831.

A picture of the Bilderdijk household is given in the letters (vol. v., 1850) of Robert Southey, who stayed some time with Bilderdijk in 1825. Madame Bilderdijk had translated Roderick into Dutch (1823-1824). For his work as a poet see Dutch Literature. His many-sided activity showed itself also in historical criticism—Geschiedenis des Vaderlands (1832-1851, 13 vols.), a conservative commentary on Wagenaar’s Vaderlandsche Historie; in translations from Sophocles (1779 and 1789), of part of the Iliad, of the hymns and epigrams of Callimachus, and from the Latin poets; in philology—Taal en Dichtkundige Verscheidenheden (1820-1825, 4 vols.); and in drama—the tragedies, Floris de Vijfde (1808), Willem I. van Holland (1808), and others. His most important poetical works are the didactic poem, De Ziekte der geleerden (“The Disease of the Learned”), 2 vols., 1807; a descriptive poem in the manner of Delille in Het Buitenleven (1803); and his fragmentary epic, De Ondergang der eerste wereld (1820). Other volumes were Mijne Verlustigung (Leiden, 1781), Bloemtjens (1785), Mengel-poezij (1799, 2 vols.), Poezij (1803-1807, 4 vols.), Mengelingen (1804-1808, 4 vols.), Nieuwe Mengelingen (1806, 2 vols.), Hollands Verlossing (1813-1814, 2 vols.), Vaderlandsche Uitboezemingen (Leiden, 1815), Winterbloemen (1811, 2 vols.), &c., in some of which his wife collaborated.

His poetical works were collected by I. da Costa (Haarlem, 1856-1859, 16 vols.), with a biography of the poet. See also “Mijne Levensbeschrijving” in Mengelingen en Fragmenten ... (1834); his Brieven (ed. 1836-1837) by I. da Costa and W. Messchert; Dr R. A. Kollewijn, Bilderdijk, Zijn Leven en werken ... (2 vols., 1891).