Literature, Mennonites in -- Netherlands

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The role which the Mennonites and other groups spiritually related to them have filled in Dutch literature has been a dual one, on the one hand active and on the other hand passive. On the one hand numerous poets and writers of varying significance have come from their circles, and on the other hand the group has constituted on the passive side an object of discussion in literature, a discussion which has consisted chiefly of contumely and derision.

Writings by Mennonites

The creative literary activity of Dutch Mennonites begins with the very earliest Anabaptist documents from the times of persecution and martyrdom in the 16th century. In these stirring, at times deeply moving, and always very personal testimonies of human suffering, of devotion to husband and wife and children, of the torturing concern of the future of loved ones, and of the calm and unshakable devotion to faith and readiness to suffer which rises high above all suffering and thinking, we often come suddenly upon a childlike-pure, ingenuous beauty which the writer did not consciously strive for and of which he very likely was wholly unconscious. Consider for instance the letters of Hendrik Verstralen (1571) and Maeyken Wens (1573), or the little song by the former, or the warlike, somewhat heavy, trumpet song of Anneken Jans, the impetuous, passionate pupil of David Joris, or the song by Margriet and Janneken, who were cast into the Scheldt River after they had been brought secretly to Antwerp and condemned to death, or many of the martyr stories and martyr hymns. The ancient documents produced by these martyrs (letters, testaments, farewells, confessions of faith, etc.) were collected and published in a volume called Het Offer des Heeren which appeared in 1562 for the first time, and to which a Lietboecxken was added beginning with the edition of 1563. The entire volume was reprinted in 1904 by Samuel Cramer as the second part of Bibliotheca Reformatoria Neerlandica. The Offer des Heeren is not only a collection of valuable historical material, not only a worthy and precious monument to the suffering of the first Anabaptists; it also contains a treasury of literary beauty, concerning which literary historians such as Kalff and Prinsen and the severe critic Busken Huet, as well as the theologians de Hoop Scheffer, Cramer, Kühler, and Knappert, are quite agreed. The large Martelaers-Spiegel (Martyrs' Mirror) by T. J. van Braght, which appeared in 1660, was a continuation and expansion of the older martyr book.

Of the multitude of songbooks the following should be mentioned as the most significant and best known: the Geestelijck Liedt-Boecxken by David Joris which contains songs of 1529-1536 and in particular the song, already mentioned, by Anneken Jans (the only extant copy is in the royal library in The Hague); the Lietboeck (1582) by Hans de Ries, the Waterlander preacher of Alkmaar, in which appeared a translation of "Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott" which is praised by Kalff; Een nieu Liedenboeck (1560, 1562) and Veelderhande Liedekens (1560, 1569), both thoroughly discussed by Kalff.

The songbooks which were intended for use in specific congregations are one or more levels lower in literary quality. Such are ‘t Groot Hoorns Liedtboeck and ‘t Kleyn Hoorns Liedtboeck (both of 1644) and Het Rijper Liedt Boecxken (1669), the Middelieër Liedboeck (1651), ‘t Gheestelijck Bloem-Hofken (Haarlem, 1637), ‘t Gheestelijck Kruydt-Hofken (Amsterdam, 1637), Claes Stapel's Lusthof der Zielen (Harlingen, 1681, 1686), and Alle Derks' Lusthof des Gemoets (Groningen, 1732) and Agter-Hofje (Groningen, 1736).

The first Mennonite in the field of belles-lettres proper was Karel van Mander (1548-1606). Having fled for conscience' sake from the southern Netherlands to Holland, he settled in Haarlem in 1583, where as a painter he became the close friend of the noted artists Cornelis Corneliszn van Haarlem, Hendrick Czn. Vroom, and Hendrick Goltzius, and where he is also supposed to have been the instructor of Frans Hals. In 1604 he moved to Amsterdam, where he died and was buried in the "Old Church." His famous work, the Schilder-Boeck (1603, 1604, new edition 1946), in which he fused psychological and novelistic matter with biographical and historical data after the fashion of Vasari, still has value in the field of the history of art, especially for the history of the Dutch and German schools. As a poet he participated zealously in the movement to transplant the Italian Renaissance to Dutch soil. In 1597 he published translations of Virgil's Bucolica and Georgica with a sonnet to Goltzius as an introduction. Later he published a commentary on Ovid's Metamorphoses with an abundance of mythological detail, afterwards published as an appendix to the Schilder-Boeck. As a Christian poet he wrote "Gheestelycke Liedekens" as a booklet entitled De Gulden Harpe (1605, 1613; the first edition, 1599, bore the title De Harpe oft des Herten Snarenspel attached to the Hooghe Liedt Salomo); he also wrote the hymns in the booklet entitled Bethlehem, dat is het Broodhuys, inhoudende den Kerstnacht . . . Liedekens of Leysen, die de Herderen . . .'s nachts, hun vee wakende, singen met verlangen na de comste Christi (1613). Among his writings is an attempt at an epic poem entitled Olijf-Bergh ofte Poema van den laetsten Dagh, which likewise did not appear until after his death (1609). Several of his poems also appeared in the Nederduytsche Helicon (1610).

Another writer belonging to the same literary period of the rhetoricians (Rederijkers) who has often been classed as a Mennonite was Roemer Visscher (1547-1620), the author of Brabbelingh and Sinnepoppen (both 1614), which are neither poetic nor ingenious, but are only moralistic pieces in prose to accompany a series of symbolical copper etchings by Claes Jzn. Visscher. There is, however, no adequate ground for his classification as a Mennonite. Some consider him to have been a liberal Catholic while others hold that he was a Calvinist with a tendency toward libertinism.

Pieter Pietersz (1574-1651), a Mennonite minister at De Rijp and later at Zaandam, was the author of a noteworthy book, Wegh na Vredenstadt (Road to the City of Peace). Among the "travels to eternity" of which Bonaventura's De Septem Itineribus Aeternitatis may have been the archetype, Pietersz' book is an interesting specimen. This book, published first ca. 1625 and followed by seven other Dutch editions, has also been translated into German. Gerrit Honig and Robert Friedmann are of the opinion that John Bunyan's famous Pilgrim's Progress (1678) was largely influenced by Wegh na Vredenstadt. David Joris and Hendrick Niclaes, Dat geestlicke Landt der Beloften, dealt with the same theme.

Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679), the great master of the Golden Age of Dutch literature, was of Mennonite ancestry, both from his father's side and his mother's side. His father, a milliner (hoedstoffeerder) by trade, had been persecuted in Antwerp because of his Mennonite faith, like the parents of Vondel's mother, and had fled to Cologne, where the poet was born. Later the father with his family migrated by way of Bremen to Holland, settling in Amsterdam in 1597 as a hosiery merchant. His gifted son, at first a faithful Mennonite and even in 1616-1620 a deacon in the Waterlander congregation which met in the church "bij den Toren" (tower), and a close friend of many of its preachers, united with the Catholic Church in 1641. The grounds for this spiritual migration are to be sought perhaps first of all in the very human longing for a religion with compelling and unshakable authority, but also in the desire of the poet for mystical experience, and probably as well in the deep disillusionment which he experienced as the result of the unedifying quarrel between Hans de Ries and Nittert Obbesz which confused the Mennonite church in Amsterdam in 1624-1627, and against which he wrote his poem "Antidotum" (1626). Vondel's drama Gijsbreght van Aemstel (1637) was a harbinger of this inner change, for it is already full of Catholic atmosphere. Many of his later works can be considered a literary defense of his new-won faith; for instance, the dramas Maeghden (1639), Peter en Pauwels (1641), Maria Stuart (1646), the poems Brieven van der Heilighe Maeghden (1642) and Eeuwgetij der Heilige Stede te Amsterdam, and an ecclesiastical-didactic, rather prosaic poem in three books, entitled Altaergeheimenissen (both written in 1645), Johannes de Boetgesant (1662, 6 books), and De heerlyckheit der Kercke (1663, 3 books). Vondel wrote two beautiful poems for the dedication of the Remonstrant church in Amsterdam (1630). Unfortunately very little evidence appears in Vondel's writings of his earlier faith, concerning which he says in his poem Toetssteen (1650) that he was bound to it in his youth only because it was an inherited doctrine for him (door errefleer). A few traces however are found, chiefly in the scattered verses which he composed for the etched portraits of several well-known Mennonite preachers, Hans de Ries, Cornelis Anslo, both of whom he esteemed highly (the latter etching was one by Rembrandt of 1641), Lubbert Gerritsz, and Antonius Roscius, to whom he dedicated two poems.

Another Mennonite literary figure who, like Vondel, became a Catholic, was Reiner (or Reyer) Anslo (1626-1669), a poet of average ability with some outstanding moments, and a nephew of the above-named preacher Cornelis Anslo. He lived for many years in Italy and died in Perugia. Roomsche Lier is the title of his collected poems, in which Vondel's influence is very evident. When the poet Pieter Czn Hooft died, Anslo wrote a long poem as an introduction to the 1671 edition of Hooft's works. Pastor Dirk Rafaelsz Camphuysen (1586-1626), although not a Mennonite but rather inclined to the Remonstrants, should be mentioned in passing as a meritorious pious poet who was highly esteemed by the Collegiants, and whose version of the Psalms was sung by them for many years, even as late as the closing of the Collegium at Rotterdam on 11 January 1788. Joachim Oudaen (1628-1692) was of a similar type in religious as well as in literary respects. He also, like his father, joined the Collegiants, and he also composed a version of the Psalms entitled Uytbreiding der Psalmen (1680-1681). He had for a time been a deacon in the Waterlander Mennonite Church in Rotterdam. He composed a short poem for the portrait of Menno Simons.  He cultivated in his lyric poems a type which was seldom used in the Dutch poetry of that day, namely, the description of landscape paintings.

Among the numerous Mennonite composers of hymns, whose songs, usually of little literary value, are found in several Dutch Mennonite hymnbooks, are (besides de Ries, Vondel, and Oudaen, mentioned before) Menno Simons, Dirk Philips, Leenaert Clock, Jan Jacobsz, Claes Ganglofs, Pieter Jans Twisck, Marijn den Brauwer, Abraham van Gherwen, Jan Jansz Deutel, Jan Claesz Schaap, Alle Derks, H. A. Hoejewilt, Bernardus de Bosch, Anthony Hartsen, Galenus Abrahamsz, Jan Luiken, Adriaan Spinniker, Reinier Rooleeuw, Aagje Deken, Adriaan Loosjes Pz., A. H. van Gelder, J. Lugt Dz., Assuerus Doyer, Klaas Sybrandi, Jan de Liefde, Herman Boetje, A. A. Sepp.

Anthoni Janssen (van der Goes) published several volumes of poetry: Christelyck Vermaeck, Bestaende in Verscheyden Stichtelyche Rymen en Gesangen (1645), Zederymen (1656), and ‘t Doolhof te Versailles, met Vaerzen verrykt (n.d., repr. 1733); his son Joannes Antonides van der Goes (1647-1684), in his time a famous poet, admired and eulogized by no less a person than Vondel, wrote a number of poems and tragedies, e.g., Trazil of Overrompelt Sina, and particularly De Ystroom, 1671. Some of his poems were posthumously edited and published by his father (Gedigten, 1685, reprinted 1704, 1715). Tieleman Jansz van Braght wrote Anghstig Swanen-Gesangh of Troostelooze Vreede (1647), and Jan Philipsz Schabaelje wrote Lusthof des Gemoeds, the most popular Mennonite book ever published, from 1645 on in numerous Dutch, German (Die wandelnde Seele), and English (The Wandering Soul) editions.

The physician and theologian, Pieter Langedult (1640-1677), a member of the Flemish Mennonite congregation in Haarlem, composed several Christian dramas, including what might be called a passion play.

The gifted poet and etcher Jan Luiken (1649-1712), the son of an educated schoolteacher and an independent thinker who had connections with both the Remonstrants and the Mennonites as well as later with the Collegiants, and who finally joined the Mennonite group in Amsterdam of which Galenus Abrahamsz de Haan was the leader, was the creator of the best Dutch lyric poetry after Vondel, Bredero, and Hooft, particularly in his youthful poems which were published in 1671 under the title De Duytse Lier. His very effective love poems, often filled with the most fervent love of nature, are among the best of such poetry of the 17th century. However, here and there among these poems there is evidence of a certain melancholy which forecast a later spiritual change. After a silence of seven years he published a work called Jezus en de Ziel (1678), which reveals the influence of Jacob Böhme. This fine poetic work portrays the heaven which may be found in the human spirit when the light of God shines in and when the voice of God is heard. His work entitled Voncken der Liefde Jesu  (1687) is likewise full of the same quiet bliss, the same mystical submergence in God, the same fellowship with the Lord. Other of his religious poetry was published later in Spiegel van het menselijk bedrijf (1694) containing poetic comments on trades and professions of all kinds, which are represented in a long series of etchings by his own hand. On the other hand Zedelijke en Stichtelijke Gezangen (1704), Beschouwing der Wereld (1708), De Onwaardige Wereld (1710), Het leerzaam huisraad (1711), and Des menschen Begin, midden en einde (1712) are chiefly of didactic character. Luiken's etchings which accompany his poems, and probably still more those which appeared in van Braght's Martelaers-Spiegel (1685) and his great series of etchings called Icones Biblicae of Afbeeldingen der merkwaardigste geschiedenissen van het Oude en Nieuwe Testament (1708, 1729), contributed much to his unusual popularity among Dutch Protestants of the most varying views, which lasted more than two centuries. Under the impression of the great and often entrancing beauty of Luiken's best religious poetry, even the most strictly orthodox forgot that the poet had gradually withdrawn from all external forms of the church in religion. In 1673 he joined the Mennonite church in Beverwijk, where he lived for some time after his marriage, and in the following year he transferred to the Mennonite church in Amsterdam, after his settlement in that city. He seems earlier to have had strong leanings toward the Collegiants, like his father and his brother Christoffel. For a short time in 1699 he withdrew from the city and from the world of men to a quiet country place near Haarlem. Later (1703) he went to Schellinkhout, not far from Hoorn, but soon thereafter he was living again in Amsterdam. There he lost his wife and his three children (his son and pupil Caspar, the etcher, died in 1705) by death and in 1712 he followed them to the land which he had long since sought in his pious Christian faith.

The good Claas Bruin (1670-1732), an honorable bookkeeper in Amsterdam, is a part of the comfortable, somewhat commonplace literary provincialism of the time. He was the diligent author of several minor moralistic and historical dramas and poems and moreover of Kleefsche en Zuid-Hollandsche Arcadia (1716), Noordhollandsche Arcadia (1732), and Speelreis langs de Vechtstroom op de uitgegeevene Gezichten van de Zeegepraalende Vecht (1719), in which he endeavored to praise the beauty of the landscape in certain districts in a pastoral, erotic, and materialistic style.

Elisabeth Koolaert-Hoofman (1664-1734) was one of the first Dutch women to write poetry. Some of her verse was published by Willem Kops in 1774.

Achior van den Abeele, a Mennonite preacher at Haarlem from 1712, published besides theological books Eens Jongelings pelgrimagie, of wandelweg, Bepland met Gedichten en Gezangen . . . (1718) and Den Uyterlyken Boogaard, bestaande in Hof- en Landgezigten, Overgebracht op de inwendige Gestalten des Gemoeds (1730). Abraham Heems, a well-to-do silk merchant at Haarlem, wrote Antipater, of de Dood van Alexander (1723), Bybelpoëzy (1729), and Absolon, of de gestrafte Heerszucht (n.d.); his daughter Femina Hugaart-Heems (1724-1781) also published a number of poems. Roelant van Leuve published Mengelwerken (3 vols., 1723) and Doorluchte te Voorbeelden der Ouden, Zinnebeelden . . . en Gedigten (1725). Herman van Logchem, a Mennonite merchant, was the author of a few comedies and tragedies, including Krispijn . . . of Erfgenaam door List (1725) and Sirena, veklheer der Parthen (1738). T. J. van Braght, probably a relative of the author of the Martyrs' Mirror, published De Gewiekte Kruiwagen, ter opvoering der onoverwonnen keizerlijke Stad Dordrecht (1717). These publications are all mediocre and have passed into complete oblivion.

Hendrik Rintjes, a Mennonite preacher and bookseller at Leeuwarden, published Gedachten op den Jongsten dag (1681, reprinted 1684) and De Morgenstond in haar Somersche Vermakelijkheden vertoont (1684, reprinted 1690).

The wealthy merchant Sybrand Feitama (1694-1758), likewise an Amsterdam Mennonite, actually undertook to climb to the summit of Parnassus. However, after the publication of his first and only tragedy, entitled Fabricius (1720), he limited himself to translations of French dramas. His teacher in grammar was the Mennonite Lambert Hermansz ten Kate (1674-1731), a grain dealer in Amsterdam, a many-sided and gifted dilettante in art and learning of all sorts, the author of Gemeenschap tussen de Gottische sprake en de Nederduytsche (1710), later of Aenleiding tot de kennisse van het verhevene deel der Nederduytse sprake (1723) and of Oeffen-Schets over het vereisch der Dichtkunst (1724). He was in this period a versatile connoisseur of languages, and his learned studies are still a subject of scholarly study. The Aenleiding contains a study of the development of sounds and the voice, and a method of phonics and prosody. He had earlier (manuscript dated 1699) written Verhandeling over de Klankkunde in connection with a study of versification. He was a deacon in the Haarlem Mennonite Church.

Pieter Langendijk (1683-1756), the ingenious and prolific composer of several comedies which often approach the farcical, came from a Mennonite family although he did not actually join the brotherhood until his deathbed. His best-known works are those in which he portrays and satirizes the weaknesses of rich, speculating, self-satisfied merchants and their relatives. These works are 't Wederzijds huwelijksbedrog (1712), De Zwetser (1712), Krelis Louwen (1715), De Wiskunstenaars (1715), and De Spiegel der vaderlandsche Kooplieden (1756). From 1722 to his death he lived in Haarlem.

Another literary figure of the 18th century was Christina Leonora de Neufville (1713-1781), who composed moralistic-theological observations in metrical form. The two brothers Cornelis and Petrus Loosjes (1723-1792 and 1735-1813), both pastors of Mennonite churches with final pastorates in Haarlem, founded the rationalistic periodical De Vaderlandsche Letteroefeningen in 1761 (ceased publication December 1876). Other Mennonites were connected with this periodical such as Jeronimo de Vries, Sr. (1776-1853), who was a literary historian and critic and also a member of the Algemene Doopsgezinde Sociëteit (Mennonite General Conference) and a curator of the Seminary in Amsterdam, and the bookseller Jacob Wybrand Yntema (1779-1858), also of Amsterdam, who was for a time publisher and editor of the periodical. Adriaan Loosjes (1761-1818), a son of Petrus Loosjes, a bookseller and publisher of Haarlem after the completion of his theological studies, a friend of the Enlightenment and a poet of moderate ability, is known as the author of a historical novel Maurits Lijnslager (1808), which was widely read both then and later, and which like his earlier work, De Historie van Mejuffrouw Suzanna Bronkhorst, reveals the influence of the novels of Elisabeth Wolff-Bekker. The latter writer, who was a much more gifted, clever, and productive author (1738-1804), preferred, although she was of the Reformed faith and the widow of a pastor of this church, to attend the Mennonite churches with her Mennonite friend and co-worker Agatha (Aagje) Deken (1741-1804), who had been reared in the Collegiant orphanage in Amsterdam. Aagje Deken, a faithful Mennonite, composed several hymns for the Haarlem Mennonite Church. After 1777 the two women lived together for a time in De Rijp and Beverwijk, then several years in France, and finally in The Hague.

Govert Klinkhamer (1704-1774), of Amsterdam, a moderately gifted poet, published De Kruisgesant, of het Leeven van den Apostel Paulus in 1725. Willem Kops (1724-1776), a textile merchant at Haarlem, wrote a number of poems; he was the anonymous author of Leeven van Pieter Langendijk. He also published a study on the Dutch rhetoricians, Schets eener geschiedenis der Rederijkeren, and a linguistic study, Oude woorden en spreekwijzen. He also edited some of the poems of Elizabeth Koolaert-Hoofman. Bastiaan Klinkert (1794-1854), a wealthy ship broker of Amsterdam, published a number of epoch-making studies on Shakespeare.

Another writer who should be mentioned was Simon Stijl (1731-1804), a physician in Harlingen, who is noted for the clear and powerful prose style of his historical work, De opkomst en bloei der Vereenigde Nederlanden (1774), and who treats the state of the dramatic arts and literature of his time in his biography of an actor, Leven van Jan Punt (1781). Because of his distaste for all churchly connections and his urge toward unconditional independence, he never joined a church, although he belonged to a Mennonite family. Further there is the Amsterdam merchant and city historian Jan Wagenaar (1709-1773). The Harlingen pastor Johannes Stinstra (1708-1790), who was deposed from his office for many years because of his Socinian views, devoted himself to the translation of Richardson's novels. A number of other well-known Mennonites had connections with the literature of the time either as linguists or as critics, such as the philologist Matthys Siegenbeek (1774-1854), pastor in Dokkum where he brought about the union of Mennonites and Remonstrants, after 1797 professor of the Dutch language and literature at the University of Leiden. Siegenbeek's successor, Matthias de Vries (1820-1892), was also a Mennonite. Siegenbeek and de Vries were the creators of a new Dutch orthography. Anthony Winkler Prins (1817-1908), a Mennonite pastor in Tjalleberd and Veendam, a Freemason and widely known as the editor of a widely used Dutch encyclopedia, was a co-worker on the magazine Braga with the Reformed pastor and poet J. J. L. ten Kate, which in 1842-1844 published exclusively a sharp and often satirical versified critique of contemporary romantic literature. Also to be named are J. G. de Hoop Scheffer, professor at the University and Mennonite Seminary of Amsterdam (1819-1893), Pieter Leendertz Wzn. (1817-1880), pastor in Medemblik, and D, Harting, pastor in Enkhuizen.

In concluding the first part of this survey mention should be made of Simon Gorter (1838-1871), a friend of de Hoop Scheffer, pastor in Aalsmeer and Wormerveer, journalist and author of excellent literary essays (Letterkundige Studien, 1871) and novels; Christiaan Nicolaas Wybrands, pastor in Enschedé, author of a history of the Amsterdam stage from 1617 to 1772 (1873), Tooneelstudien (1889), and of a valuable and richly documented study entitled Het Menniste Zusje (Zondagsbode, 1902-1903, 1914, second edition); the latter's gifted brother Aemilius Willem Wybrands (1838-1886), pastor at Edam, Hoorn, and Leiden and church historian, noted for his research in the ecclesiastical drama of the Middle Ages (1861); the Haarlem pastor and religious poet, Jeronimo de Vries Jr. (1838-1915), highly esteemed for his gifts as a preacher; the pastor and author Johannes Dyserinck (1835-1912), who published numerous articles and several books dealing primarily with Dutch writers and artists of the 18th and 19th centuries (Wolff and Deken, Bellamy, Beets, Bosboom-Toussaint, Pierson, Winkler Prins), G. J. Boekenoogen (1870-1930), the author of a study of the portraits of Menno Simons.

Among 20th century Mennonite authors of short stories, all dealing with Mennonite history, are to be mentioned Pastor Hermanus Schuurmans (1867-1942), author of Van de Oude Garde (1907), Leendert Hansma (1861-1940), who published a number of sketches in several issues of the Doopsgezind  Jaarboekje, W. J. Kühler (1874-1946), whose fine tales, "Gesprek met Menno" and "Het vrouwtje van Gouda," are found in Doopsgezinde Bijdragen of 1905 and 1907, Herman Bakels (1871-1952), who in four papers published in the Doopsgezinde Bijdragen of 1900, 1901, 1902, and 1904, later collected in book form, Het Volk van Menno (1908), well mingled history and fiction, and Pastor R. Schuursma (b. 1870), author of Van Elisabeth, die een bagijntje was (1921). David Tomkins (pen name of J. W. N. le Heux) wrote sketches and poems for Dutch periodicals. Some Mennonite pastors, e.g., J. D. van Calcar and Miss W. C. Jolles, published a number of Biblical plays; J. E. Tuininga is the author of a Christmas play. Miss J. E. Kuiper's Bijbel voor de Jeugd (3rd ed., Amsterdam, 1951) is an outstanding work giving the essential Bible content in paraphrasing adapted to adolescents. Note also her Van Gods Geslacht, Karakters uit den Bijbel (Amsterdam, 1926, in collaboration with Prof. Ph. Kohnstamm). Her De Zangers van den Prins (Amsterdam, 1951) is a story for youth from the time of the beginning of the Eighty Years' War.

Pastor Lykele Bonga (1892-1952) published a volume of poems Als Glas in Load (1938) and Pastor Andries Lucas Broer (born 1900) three collections: Open Vensters (1929), Langs Uwe wegen (1936), and Er Staat een Ploeg (1942).

The Mennonite Theme in Literature

Allusions to the Mennonites and related groups are numerous in the older Dutch literature. They are quite naturally found for the most part in authors of other faiths, and insofar as they were written at the time of the beginnings and first progress of the Anabaptist movement are filled with a great earnestness and seriousness. Among the writers of this type we must mention first of all Dirk Volkertsz Coornhert (1522-1590), the writer and poet, philosopher and theologian, the socratic-platonic Christian who, although he belonged to the Catholic Church, sought quite independently his own way to the highest truth, and who was the courageous defender of absolute freedom of conscience, whom Kühler calls "the friend and at the same time the enemy of the Anabaptists," and to whom he attaches the title of "the Dutch Sebastian Franck." In addition to his theological and polemic writings dealing with the new teachings, such as Van de bejaerden Doope, Uytroedinghe van des Verderfs plantinghe (dedicated to Hans de Ries), Van de sendingh der Lutheranen, Swinglianen en Mennonieten (1583), Opperste Goedts nasporinghe, in which he has de Ries appear in a conversation, and his Kleijn-Munster (1590), written against David Joris, he produced also an altogether different type, a satirical dialogue ("samen-spraak") entitled Aertzney der sielen (1570), in which the pope, Luther, Calvin, as well as Menno Simons, "de duysterlingh," are subjected to bitter mockery. His friend, the faithful Catholic Hendrick L.zn. Spieghel (1549-1612), mentions Jan van Leyden and Melchior Hoffman in his Kerktwistsjaarlied of 1601. Karel van Mander portrays with deep sympathy the industry, the strict and quiet manner of life, the peacefulness and piety of the Anabaptists, in his Olijf-Bergh. Vondel's verses attached to the pictures of Mennonite preachers have already been mentioned. The very meritorious poet Jan Jansz Starter (1594-1626), whose parents belonged to the little group of Brownists who had fled from England and joined the Waterlander Mennonite church in Amsterdam in 1615, wrote among other lyrical and comic poems (Friesche Lusthof, 1621) the well-known and fetching parody entitled Menniste Vrijagie (courtship), which, however, as A. E. H. Swaen has shown, is an almost literal translation of an English parody on the prudishness of the young Puritan woman (Tijdschr. Mij. v. Ned. Letterk., nr. 16). Jan Zoet (1614-1674), the rhyming innkeeper, Collegiant, pietist, chiliast, and later Labadist and polygamist, is more pungent and uncouth in his digs at the Old Frisian Mennonites, whose painful soberness in clothing he attempted to ridicule, perhaps confusing the clothing of the Mennonites with that of the Quakers. In his satire Het groote Vischnet the Mennonites as well as all other ecclesiastical bodies of the time were subjected to attack (zoo quaad te grijpen als een aal).

The highly talented lyric poet Gerbrand Adr.zn. Bredero (1585-1618) refers to the uprising of the Anabaptists in Amsterdam in 1535 in his notable drama Het Moortje (1616), which is characterized by vivid action, ingenious portraiture, and a free use of the vernacular with a rich spicing of all sorts of humorous expressions. The same drama also refers to the supposed weakness of Mennonites for rich food and drink. One of the characters, a young man, mentions among other fine food "een benistekoeck" (Mennonite cake), and at another place a drunken fellow tells of a drinking bout in which he emptied glass after glass of a "beniste boortje," i.e. (according to F. A. Stoett), glasses filled to the brim. These two expressions as well as similar ones are also found in several farces of the same period such as those by Pers, Breughel, and Fokkens. Other farcical pieces mention "Menniste streken," "treken," and "knepen" (tricks and dodges) and "schijnheiligheid" (sanctimoniousness), while Quakers and Labadists suffer the same contumely (Noseman, H. v. Halmael, P. de la Croix). The collected writings of Jeroense (1684), C. Tuinman (1726), and P. J. Harrebomee (1858) contain expressions, phrases, ironical verses, and the like, which attempt to paint pictures of Mennonites in the same unpleasant colors.

However, out of the midst of this gay company of authors, for the most part without gifts and often without name, the brilliant Thomas Asselijn (1620-1701) with his well-known trilogy, Jan Klaaz of De gewaande Dienstmaagd (1682), 't Kraambedt of Kandeelmaal van Saartje Jansz (1684), and De Echtscheiding van Jan Klaaz en Saartje Jansz (1685), stands out. The presentation of the first drama with its bubbling humor, its powerful realism, and its living local color was a tremendous success. Great agitation however was occasioned by the abundance of references to Mennonites of various groups, to Collegiants, Socinians, and Quakers, to occurrences in their eventful history, and to all kinds of peculiarities in their faith, their clothing, their manner of life, their speech, and their style of speaking. Trouble was stirred up, particularly by the pointed allusions; which were easily understood by the public, as they were meant to be, to noted persons, families, and business concerns. These persons attacked were so highly indignant and agitated that the magistrate was drawn into the matter and forbade further presentation of the play. The outcome was a bitter battle of pamphleteers. The second and third play in Asselijn's trilogy also contained a multitude of obvious allusions to Mennonite and related themes. On "Thomas Asselijn en De Doopsgezinden" H. W. Meihuizen wrote four papers in Algemeen Doopsgezind Weekblad IX (1955).

The Amsterdam Anabaptist uprising of 1535 was also the subject of a tragedy by Pieter Adriaensz Codde, Herdopers Anslagh op Amsterdam (1641), which was often performed in the Amsterdam theatre "with great approval."

None of the comedies of Pieter Langendijk (1683-1756), who was mentioned above, treats the Mennonites in this fashion, but a poem of his does. It bears the title "Zwitsersche eenvoudigheid, klaagende over de bedorven zeden veeler Doopsgezinden of Weerlooze Christenen," and deals with simple Swiss Mennonite farmers who emigrated from their homeland to the Netherlands in 1711 because of persecution. The Swiss Mennonites are represented as being highly astonished at the great luxury which they found among the rich Mennonite merchants of Amsterdam where they spent a few weeks, particularly the luxury which they observed in their stately homes on the canals.

Similar comments on the same theme, although in a quieter and more sensible tone, are to be found by Justus van Effen in the Hollandsche Spectator (1731-1735), a weekly journal treating of various subjects, which was patterned after the English Spectator, also in the later Nederlandsche Spectator (which had Mennonites among its contributors), as well as in other similar periodicals. Of course not all the accusations and condemnations found in the above-mentioned works are to be taken at face value, although not everything dare be assumed to be fiction. All types of life, certainly of churchly and sectarian life, develop ridiculous and obnoxious perversions. However, the various groups were often confused with one another, much to the disadvantage of the better types. Furthermore it must not be forgotten that it was easy for those who were critical to mock and condemn the Mennonites who had always manifested somewhat singular behavior in society because of their semi-isolation, particularly as they gradually came to greater and greater prosperity in the course of the 17th and 18th centuries and gradually at the same time surrendered much of their traditional Mennonite simplicity. But the more the Mennonites mingled with the rest of the population, and the more they secured the same legal privileges and rights, the more they dropped out of the eye of the outside world and the more they lost their attractiveness for literary writers, at least as an object for criticism and satire. In the letters and novels of Elisabeth Wolff and Aagje Deken, particularly in Willem Leevend and Cornelia Wildschut, which reflect the spirit of a later age, the Mennonites are treated in quite a different fashion. Good-natured jokes are made at their expense, or their human weaknesses and foibles are held up in an objective and kindly, often comical, frankness, but at the same time praise and recognition are given for their good qualities. And soon after the death of these two authors who were so kindly disposed toward the Mennonites, the Mennonites disappear out of Dutch literature as an easy prey for the critics.

Although the Dutch Mennonites had been granted equality with the Reformed, partly in 1796 and completely by the constitution of 1848, even in the second half of the 19th century something of the former disrespect for the Mennonites occasionally echoes in the literature, as in the novel Klaasje Zevenster by Jacob van Lennep (1st ed., 1865, IV, p. 74) and in Camera Obscura by Hildebrand (1839).

In the Dutch literature of the 20th century certain periods or persons, particularly of the oldest and preferably of revolutionary Anabaptism, have been treated by Dutch authors. In 1920 P. H. van Moerkerken (1877-1951) wrote his novel Het nieuwe Jeruzalem; Jef Last published Het eerste schip op de Newa (1945); Muus Jacobse (pseudonym of K. H. Heeroma, born 1909) composed the poems Het Offer des Heeren (ca. 1930) and De drie Kooien (1946); J. de Jonge wrote Anna Holmer (1949); Jan Mens wrote a novel on Wendelmoet Claesdochter entitled De witte Vrouw (1952); Ypk fan der Fear (pseudonym of L. Post-Beuckens) published a novel in the Frisian language, De Breugeman komt (Drachten, 1953), of which a translation in Dutch is De bruidegom komt (Baarn, 1956); the book by Paul Dietz, Sterrenzaaisel van Brahma, contains a chapter on Jan van Geelen; B. Stromall wrote Obbe Philips, oudste der Dopers (1935); G. J. Hoogwerf wrote De project and De zwaardgeesten; and Marja Roc wrote Een koning verleid (The Hague, n.d., 1954). The writers Theun de Vries (born at Veenwouden, Friesland, 1907) and Jef (Josephus C. F.) Last (born at The Hague, 1898), both well-known Dutch novelists, are of Mennonite descent, but in their numerous novels they only incidentally deal with Mennonite subjects. H. A. Lunshof wrote a novel on the Mennonite preacher Antony Winkler Prins, entitled Leven zonder Demon (Amsterdam, 1950).

Dirk Coster in Verzameld Proza (1927), 182 f., paid attention to the Mennonites in Dutch literature, while the Reformed K. H. Heeroma, professor of Dutch literature at the University of Groningen, published thorough studies on Mennonite poets.

In 1915 H. P. G. Quack, a noted professor of Amsterdam University, wrote in his engrossing Herinneringen (1915) about the highly esteemed Mennonite family of Jelle Hingst, formerly at Harlingen, later at Amsterdam, whose son Sybrand Jan Hingst was his close friend.


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Author(s) H. F. W. Jeltes
Nanne van der Zijpp
Date Published 1956

Cite This Article

MLA style

Jeltes, H. F. W. and Nanne van der Zijpp. "Literature, Mennonites in -- Netherlands." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1956. Web. 18 Sep 2021.,_Mennonites_in_--_Netherlands&oldid=171948.

APA style

Jeltes, H. F. W. and Nanne van der Zijpp. (1956). Literature, Mennonites in -- Netherlands. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 18 September 2021, from,_Mennonites_in_--_Netherlands&oldid=171948.


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 354-360; vol. 4, p. 1146. All rights reserved.

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