huizinga - mypathtohistory
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J. H. HUIZINGA
Dutch Civilisation in the Seventeenth Centuryand other essaysSELECTED F. W. N. BY PIETER GEYL AND HUGENHOLTZ BY TRANSLATED
ARNOLD J. POMERANS
CollinsST JAMES'S PLACE, LONDON1968 J.
MURREY ATKINS LIBRARY .
My Path to History members, he had called on the Count of In- and Knyphuizen, at Lutetsborg Castle near Vordenthe castle burned down on Christmas night I 909where they were most warmly received, the daughters dressing up specially in the costumes of the Mannings family. Feith told me all this much later, when we had become close friends or, to be more precise, between 1905 and his all too early death in 1913. The carnival was the most magnificent spectacle I had ever witnessed. I remember the procession leaving Marktstraat, close to our own house at the corner of Ossenmarkt and Lopende Diep, that it blew hard that day and that a flagpole was snapped off nearby, the flag enveloping a rider, and many other details which I shall spare you. The principal character was Willem Alberda van Ekenstein, later Judge van Ekenstein, who made a magnificent Count Edzard, armoured from top to toe in glittering metal. When the main spectacle was over, it was the schoolboys' turn. Our mothers had dressed us all up in beautiful costumes, but since the burgomaster would not have another street procession, we had to content ourselves with the old theatre in Nieuwe Kijk in 't Jatstraat. Then life resumed its normal course, not, however, before I had become fascinated by our colourful past. During 1881-82, when I was in my fourth year at school ( there were seven primary grades altogether) we began to learn Dutch History. Our teacher was Miss J. Nuiver, the niece of Mr. A. Nuiver, our headmaster, a man whose tall hat, black whiskers and strict yet gentle face I have never forgotten. Miss Nuiver later taught in a teachers' training college and, I believe, died a few years ago. She must have been an exceptionally good teacher of history. Frisians, Franks and Saxons came to life for me, I felt a great kinship to the Counts of Holland, and I warmly embraced the cause of the Noble Confederates who signed the Compromise in 1565. I have always been certain that what his245
My Path to History'I have never had the wish to write an autobiography, nor have I even kept a diarythe daily entries I made during my visit to the United States in 1926 do not deserve that name, and during my trip to Java, Bali and Hong Kong in the winter of 1930-31, I suffered from an injury to my right eye and was consequently forced to rely on my memory. Only once, at Woudschoten on 17 March 1936, did I address students on my own life. Even then my intention was not so much to tell them about myself as to illustrate the nature of historical interest, and I felt I could do that far better by personal example than by philosophical speculation. If I return to the subject now at some greater length, it is because I have come to feel that my historical development has been unusual enough to merit the reader's brief attention.
My first contact with history was rather occasional and has left me with keen memories, some of which I have been able to check against my elder brother's recollections. It was during the autumn of 1879. I had just finished my first year at primary school and must have been seven years old. The Groningen Student-Corps was holding its quinquennial celebrations, and the theme of the carnival was the entry, in 1506, of Edzard, Count of East Friesland, into the city of Groningen. I doubt whether the costumes were historically accurate, even though a lot of research had gone into the procession. The heart and soul of the organising committee was J. A. Feith, later State Archivist and unsurpassed historian of Groningen. With some of his fellow committee'First published by H. Tjeenk Willink & Zoon, Haarlem, 1947.
Dutch Civilisation in the Seventeenth Centurytorical knowledge I have acquired since, is firmly based on Miss Nuiver's teachings. As time went by, I naturally made extra-curricular contact with history as well. Our reading -matter included a large number of school and children's books from the collection of Grandfather Huizinga, pastor emeritus since 1879, many still with those old, long s-s which we found utterly ridiculous, and full of old-fashioned ideas on pedagogy. If only I could look at that collection now! Jules Verne, whom my friends devoured so greedily, gave me but little pleasure; in fact, I left most of his books unread. My greatest favourites were Andersen's Fairy Tales. My friends called them childish, but I paid no attention to their jibes, and enjoyed the tales then as I continue to love them now, particularly the simplest of them, for instance, The Old House and The Goblin at the Grocer's. Later, in Form 2 of High School, when I was awarded a prize and was asked to choose a book, I asked for Andersen's Fairy Talesto the astonishment of teachers and governors alikeand was given a fine German edition on which I hope to lay my hands again one day. Before 1885, when I entered High School, my interest in history was kept alive in a number of ways. There were first of all two hobbies which I shared with my older brother Jacob, born in 187o and now a retired doctor. Jacob, who was keenly interested in history but was driven to medicine by the vicissitudes of his school career, has retained a strong love for the past and for literature. For a time, we were very keen on heraldry, knew everything there was to know about helmets, coats of arms, shields, chiefs, quarterings, common charges and what have you. I cannot tell whether this hobby was partly responsible for a secret vice that I have never been able to shake off altogether: a hankering for patrician origins and names, and a certain scorn for my own, all too obviously plebeian, descent from Baptist pastors and provincial farmers. Our other hobby was of rarer quality: we became en246 247
My Path to Historythusiastic coin collectors. I do not remember how it all started, but our collection included old shillings and silver riders, together with pieces dated 1500 and even earlier. We also had a Sea-Beggar's penny made of lead and bearing the inscription 'Sooner Turks than Papists', notes issued during the siege of Groningen in 1672, and an 1814 penny commemorating the bicentenary of Groningen University and bearing the legend: dummodo monumentum adsit. Our greatest treasure, hower, was a Louis the Pious denarius, which we acquired in the autumn of 1884, on the occasion of yet another quinquennial celebration. This time the subject of the pageant was the life of the Stadholder Frederick Henry. Pieter Jelles Troelstra in a simple black suit was Gysbert Japicx, and I think that Gerrit de Jongh, later Judge de Jongh, took the part of d'Estrades. As far as I can remember De Marees van Swinderen, who later became Dutch Ambassador to London, also played some part. Some ten days later, when Jacob and I were alone at home, our Uncle Sam, who was in fact our half-cousin Dr. Samuel Meihuizen, called and pretended to be very cross with us for not watching the procession from the steps of his house in Boteringestraat. It had all been agreed, he had gone to a lot of trouble, etc., etc.; in short, Uncle Sam put on a great act, as only he knew how. We felt terribly ashamed and foolish about it all, and when he saw that, he grinned and presented us with the denarius, dug up from a mound in Hunsingo. I think that our friend Piet Hofstede de Groot, later director of the Amsterdamsche Bank, must also have had some share in our collection. His father, Professor C. P. Hofstede de Groot who died in 1884, presented us with two beautiful mahogany coin cases, divided into a number of compartments, which he had bought at the auction of Jonkheer Mello Backer's effects. My chronological sense is also bound up with a large seventeenth or eighteenth century silver wedding penny. On the reverse, a festooned column or pillar bore theto me then quite mysteriousinscription
Dutch Civilisation in the Seventeenth CenturyCharitas omnia suffert, which made me wonder what an old dotard (Dutch : sufferd) was doing at a wedding. In other words, I must have acquired this penny before I started Latin, i.e. before the end of 1885. What happened to our collection? Years later, when I was approaching the end of my school life, my brother was very short of money and took my good nature for granted. I had not been taking any interest in our coins for quite some time, so that I was taken completely by surprise when, one fine day, he told me with his characteristic and disarming smile, that he had disposed of the entire collection piece by piece. Despite all these incidental contacts with historical events, my intellectual curiosity between the ages of twelve and eighteen was not at all bound up with things historical new interests helped to push these into the background. I can still remember how it all started. Dr. Jan to Winkel, our Dutch master at High School, was not a particularly good teacher of his subjectonly during one of my last years at school did he manage to arouse my interest with a dictation on Middle-Dutch literature. In the lower classes, he taught us Dutch from Van Helten's impossibly erudite textbook, which was full of such helpful grammatical terms as syncope, metathesis and synaloepha, and from Cosijn's even more absurd but at least more amusing Cacographie. It did not escape us that the thoughts of our good teacher were elsewhere. He was forever sucking at the stub of his cigar and rattling keys in his trouser pockets. He completely spoiled our taste for Vondel by making us read Roskam in our second and Lucifer in our third year. Even so, I owe Mr. Te Winkel a great debt. I was still in my first form, and we had just started on Latin verbs, when I asked him if our 'hebben'to havewas not related to the