Netherlands Literature – From the End of the 16th Century to the Beginning of the 18th Century

With the birth (1588) of the republic of the United Provinces, literary dominance gradually shifted from the southern to the northern area. The capital, scholarship, ingenuity and spirit of initiative of the many tens of thousands of exiles who moved to the North contributed to the cultural and economic development of the Republic, where, for about three centuries, the language and Dutch literature could flourish and evolve.

According to findjobdescriptions, the struggle for national and religious freedom, the spirit of which is authentically expressed in the songs of the rebels collected in Geuzenliedboek (“The songbook of the beggars”, 1574), inspired several important historical works, such as those in Latin by the historian and jurist U. Grotius (H. van Groot), and that of the Tacitian imprint of PC Hooft, Nederlandsche historiën (“Dutch Stories”, 1642-54). Versatile and refined humanist, Hooft was at the center of the literary and cultural life of his time both in Amsterdam, which became the artistic center of the Renaissance, and at the castle of Muiden, where many writers and artists animated the intellectual climate of the famous Circle of Muiden, and the his work includes several masterpieces of Dutch Renaissance literature in all the forms it adopted, from lyric to letters to dramaturgy.

J. Cats was the most authoritative representative of the emblematic poetry of the seventeenth century, in whose popular work the didactic intent prevails, also perceptible in the poetry of C. Huygens, aristocrat of great humanistic culture and acute observer and judge of reality and customs; GA Bredero and J. van den Vondel, both exquisite poets but also theatrical authors (the first playwright, the second tragedian) who enriched the theatrical production of the time, to which the popular playwright J. Vos also gave his contribution. The theatrical activity, furthermore, stimulated by the three most important rhetorical chambers that also took care of the performances, had one of the most significant moments with the inauguration of the new theater in Amsterdam (1638), built by the architect J. van Campen. Religious lyrics found expression in some minor poets,

With the exception of the translation of the Bible, Statenbijbel, ordered by the States General and completed in 1637, which had so much influence on the written and spoken language, Hooft’s historical and epistolary prose and some preface by Vondel, in the literature of this period the prose it was poorly represented. In addition to the pastoral novel by J. van Heemskerk, the picaresque one by N. Heinsius and the witty prose of the moralists Johan de Brune and Jan de Brune, the travel diaries, among the best known by WY Bontekoe, and the ‘biographical work of G. Brandt.

In the flourishing literary production of the second half of the 17th century. the accentuation of the baroque element is observed, as in the particular religious sensibility of J. de Decker and H. Dullaert. Vondel’s pupil was JA van der Goes, an appreciable poet despite the excess of rhetoric and mythological elements. The almost twenty-year conflict between the proponents of classical theater, who had a tireless supporter in S. Coster, and those of ‘free’ theater ended in 1635 with the merger of the three rhetorical chambers in the Amsterdamsche Kamer. The opposing tendencies continued to coexist, but classical dramaturgy gained the upper hand thanks to French classicism, which made its entrance into Dutch literature with the foundation of the academy ‘Nil volentibus arduum’ (1669), an association of poets. This, and the numerous poetry societies that arose subsequently, determined the literary climate up to 1766, especially for the theater, whose aesthetic canons conformed to the precise regulations codified by the Frenchman N. Boileau in the Art poétique (1674).

Outside of classicism is the small volume of the valuable poet J. Luyken, Duytsche lier (“Dutch Lira”, 1671), a collection of lively and delicate lyrics in anacreontic style. In the last quarter of a century, two theatrical authors have happily taken up Bredero’s realistic tradition: T. Asselijn, who after a series of classicist tragedies reveals his true talent in comedy, and Netherlands Bernagie, who provides a witty image of costume in the farce De belachelyke jonker (“The Ridiculous Gentleman”, 1681).

Along with dramaturgy, even the epic poem falls within the privileged and rigidly codified genres in the classicist models. Among the best known representatives of epic poetry, which draws mainly on biblical topics or national history, with or without mythological references, we should mention: L. Rotgans with Wilhelm de Derde (“William III”, 1700) and A. Hoogvliet with Abraham de aartsvader (“Abraham the patriarch”, 1727), both held in the highest esteem by contemporary writers; Lucretia W. van Merken with David (1767); the brothers van Haren, Willem, author of the great epic Gevallen van Friso (“The events of Friso”, 1741), and Onno Zwier, author of the poems Aan het vaderland (“Alla patria”, 1769) and De geusen (“The beggars”, 1771) as well as the appreciable tragedy about an episode in Dutch colonial history, Agon, sulthan van Bantam (“Agon, sultan of B.”, 1796). For the Arcadian-pastoral poetry, represented above all by JB Wellekens, who published in 1715 Verhandeling van het herdersdicht (“Treatise on pastoral poetry “) together with the translation of the Aminta, we must remember C. Bruin with Noord-hollandsche Arkadia (“The Arcadia of North Holland », 1719), while for lyric poetry the most important figure is HK Poot.

For the tragedy, mostly redundant and verbose, the most important authors of this period are the aforementioned Rotgans and B. Huydekoper, while the comedy, more responsive to the Dutch character due to its realistic setting, is represented above all by Netherlands Langendijk, an attentive observer of customs and interested in grasping the contrast between appearance and reality (Het wederzijds huwelijksbedrog “The mutual deception of marriage”, 1714; De illustrael der vaderlandse koopliederen “The mirror of the Dutch merchants”, 1760). The critic and prose writer J. van Effen was also keen observer of the costumes who, inspired by the English Spectator, founded the magazine De Hollandsche spectator (“The Dutch observer”, 1731-35), in which he proposed to edify his audience by dealing with various kinds of subjects with common sense and realism.

Netherlands Literature - From the End of the 16th Century to the Beginning of the 18th Century