Netherlands Literature – From the End of the 18th Century to the End of the 19th Century

The end of classical academicism was marked by the birth of the Maatschappij der Nederlandsche letterkunde (“Society of Dutch literature”), founded in Leiden in 1766 and still active today, born from the merger of some societies of poets on the initiative of RM van Goens, profound connoisseur of the European literatures of his time and author of three essays, written between 1765 and 1767, on the orientations of the new artistic ideals of the pre-romantic period. Even H. van Alphen, author of verses in which he was able to express the new sensibility (Kleine gedigten voor kinderen “Little poems for children”, 3 vol., 1778-82), argued against academicism in Theorie der schoone kunsten en wetenschappen («Theory of fine arts and sciences», 1778-80), and in Digtkundige verhandelingen (“Poetic Dissertations”, 1782). Theoretical reflections on the concepts of beauty and art were also elaborated by R. Feith, J. Kinker (poet-philosopher of Kantian inspiration) and W. Bilderdijk.

According to ehotelat, the pietistic sentimentality of German imprint, in which a refined and profound inner emotion is released and an exalted and melancholy admiration of nature, found an echo above all in R. Feith, author of the novels Julia (1783) and Ferdinand en Constantia (1785), and in EM Post, who turned her interest above all to nature, the author of a novel on Suriname (Reinhart, of natuur en godsdienst «R. or nature and religion», 1791). The tearful sentimentality of Feith’s novels aroused criticism and irony from several contemporary authors. Among these also E. Wolff-Beker and A. Dekken, who, on the model of English literature, introduced the educational epistolary novel in the Netherlandss. The two writers wrote in collaboration Historie van mejuffrouw Sara Burgerhart (“History of Miss SB”, 1782), considered the first modern novel of Dutch literature, and Historie van den heer Willem Leevend (“History of Mr. WL”, 8 vol., 1784-85), who it includes an extensive theological treatment of all religious currents.

In the Netherlands Romanticism developed around three motifs: religiosity, the exaltation of national values ​​and the realism of everyday life, in which the feeling of domestic intimacy and a gentle sense of humor find expression. The most important figure was W. Bilderdijk, a tormented, exalted and individualistic spirit, who, despite the theories expounded in Kunst der poëzy (“Poetic Art”, 1809), nevertheless did not know how to free himself from the formal models of classicism. The authors of this period all felt the need for an autonomous poetic form and a return to naturalness. Romance, an epic-lyric composition that seems to best express romantic sensibility, is a very popular genre, practiced by authors such as the aforementioned Feith and Bilderdijk, J. Bellamy (founder of the literary criticism magazine De poëtische spectator “The poetic observer”, 1784-86), ACW Staring, who later turned out to be the author of tasty humorous narratives. Between the end of the eighteenth century and the early nineteenth century A. Loosjes still distinguished himself, with what can be considered the first Dutch historical novel, Leven van Maurits Lijnslager (“Life of ML”, 1808), and JF Helmers with the poem De Hollandsche Natie (” The Dutch Nation “, 1812). After a few years J. Vosmaer published Het leven en de wandelingen van Meester Maarten Vroeg (“The life and walks of MMV”, 1821-22), a series of humorous short stories that with lively realism express a tolerant critique of the cultural and social life of the time. Great success was H. Tollens, cantor of love of country in numerous ballads and in the very popular narrative poem Overwintering der Hollanders op Nova-Zembla (“Wintering of the Dutch in New Zemlia”, 1819). I. da Costa, a pupil of Bilderdijk and a prophetic supporter of the poet’s priestly mission, professed his aversion to liberal ideals in Bezwaren tegen den geest der eeuw (“Objections against the spirit of the times”, 1823), and was the greatest exponent of the réveil, the Protestant religious movement with openly conservative tendencies that proposed a renewal inspired by the pietistic tradition. A typical literary product of this movement was the predikantenpoëzie (“poetry of the preachers”), represented by both secular and religious authors.

The national romantic ideal found inspiration in the work of W. Scott, indicated as the ideal model for the historical novel by the authoritative scholar DJ van Lennep as early as 1827. Enthusiastic supporter of national-historical ideals and stimulator of the renewal of letters and Society in general was EJ Potgieter, who exerted great influence with De gids (“The guide”), the literary criticism he founded (1837) and directed. The rich strand of the historical novel, begun by A. Drost with Hermingard van Eikenterpen (“Ermingarda di E.”, 1832), was successfully continued by J. van Lennep with De Roos van Dekama (“La rosa di D.”, 1836) and Ferdinand Huyck (1840), by JF Oltmans with De schaapherder (“The Shepherd”, 1838), and especially by ALG Bosboom-Toussaint. In the context of romantic-realistic production, which in the cult of humor is mainly inspired by English models ( L. Sterne, C. Lamb and C. Dickens), one of the best examples is constituted by Camera obscura (1839) by N Beets, where comedy springs from the attentive and amused observation of everyday life. Also worth mentioning are the sketches of Studententypen (“Types of students”, 1839-41) by J. Kneppelhout, Waarheid en droomen (“Truth and dreams”, 1840) by JPHasebroek and Schetsen uit de Pastorij te Mastland (“Sketches from the house of the evangelical pastor to M.”, 1843) by CE van Koetsveld. In the Gedichten van de schoolmeester (“Poems of the school teacher”, post., 1859) by G. van de Linde there are grotesque and parody elements, and the verses of the collection Snikken en grimlachjes van Piet Paaltjens (” Sobs and sneers of PP”, 1867) by F. Haverschmidt are pervaded by a melancholy humor reminiscent of that of H. Heine.

The bourgeois environment of traders is portrayed with bitter and pungent irony by Multatuli in the novel Max Havelaar, of de koffy-veilingen der Nederlandsche Handel-maatschappij (“MH, or the coffee auctions of the Dutch Commercial Society”, 1859), which for the quality and innovative character of its prose, as well as for the value and originality of the contents, it is to be considered the most important work of the entire nineteenth century. The development of prose literature favored the birth of autonomous genres such as non-fiction. An important figure in this field was C. Busken Huet, a fruitful man of letters and a polemical spirit who, in addition to Litterarische fantasiën en kritieken (“Fantasies and literary criticisms”, 25 vol., 1881-88), published a valuable cultural history of the seventeenth century, Het land van Rembrandt (“The land of R.”, 1882-84).

Netherlands Literature - From the End of the 18th Century to the End of the 19th Century