Dutch Occasional Poetry of the 16th through 18th Centuries
Advisor: J.A. Gruys
All data reflect the situation after filming parts 1 (2000,Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague) and 2 (2004, Gemeentearchief Amsterdam).
These editions comprise two of the most prominent collections of Dutch occasional poetry. Three other repositories report holdings of these verses, totaling c. 1,900 additional editions; IDC Publishers intends to develop full coverage of all collections in its microfiche edition. The catalogue on CD-ROM already describes all 6,685 editions in great detail.
Popularity The genre of occasional poetry, verse written to celebrate milestones in the life of private citizens, was introduced into the young Dutch Republic in the late sixteenth century. Starting from Leyden academic circles, it rapidly gained popularity among large sections of Dutch society; a poem written on the occasion of a wedding or a funeral was a status symbol for the well-to-do citizen. Occasional verse is one of the utilitarian arts, and its purpose is to honor, mourn or comfort. Poems on marriages and funerals were by far the most frequent, but birthdays, investitures with degrees or offices, and their anniversaries, did not pass unnoticed. Poems on royalty, stadtholders and historical events are excluded in the collection; Dutch tradition considers them as pamphlets.
Categories The nuptial ode, or epithalamium, is the most numerous and most typical category within the genre. No less an authority than Julius Caesar Scaliger had laid down its rules (Poetica, 1561). The delights of the wedding night should be expounded, and the hope of children should not be omitted. These passages supplied a real want, for in literary, petrarchist love poetry sexual allusions were strictly avoided. Similar rules applied to funeral poetry: praise for the deceased, expression of grief, thoughts on the magnitude of the loss, and comfort for his friends and relations constituted the stock ingredients.
Rarity Usually, these verses were printed in very small numbers for distribution among those present at the occasion, and most of the copies were lost as soon as the wedding guests or mourners dispersed. Consequently, surviving copies are very rare; in general they owe their survival to being bound in voluminous tract bindings or hidden in family archives. The latter category has often kept its original paper covers: black for funeral odes, and bright marbled or brocade papers for epithalamia.
Repositories There are four major Dutch collections of occasional poetry. Together they hold 6,685 editions (duplicates not counted), of which 5,572 can be found in one collection only. The small number of duplicates is another indication of the extreme rarity of these works; if a poem is represented in one collection only, it is very likely the only surviving one.
Present coverage A full catalog of all 6,685 editions is now available on CD-ROM, together with a microfiche edition of two the most prominent collection of these verses, viz. in the holdings of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague (3,662 editions) and 1,226 editions from the Gemeentearchief Amsterdam.
Forms and languages The majority is quarto volumes of about two gatherings; other formats do occur, and about a thousand are single sheets. Quite a number of the books have an illustration, either on the title page or on a preliminary leaf; in the seventeenth century these illustrations are usually woodcuts, but later on, copper engravings of surprising dimensions and quality, produced by the best artists of the time, are found.
Most of the poems are in Dutch, but 878 are in Latin; French (62), German (40) and other languages are also represented. Almost every Dutch poet contributed to the genre. Among the top authors (represented with sixty poems or more) are: Claas Bruin, Hendrik van de Gaete, Willem van der Hoeven, David van Hoogstraten, Anthony Jansen, Pieter Langendyk, Joannes Oosterwijk, and Jan Baptista Wellekens.
Publication of these virtually unknown poems was highly desirable. Not only their survival is ensured in this way, but also their availability to scholars all over the world. Many poems have been lost irretrievably in the course of time, and surely there are collections in The Netherlands and abroad which hold poems not represented in these four major collections. This publication, however, constitutes a firm base for many kinds of research, for instance for historians of Dutch and Neo-Latin literature, art historians, students of genealogy and local history, musicologists and students of book history.
Catalog on CD-ROM The microfiche edition is based on the long-expected Catalogue of Dutch Occasional Poems, compiled by Adèle Nieuweboer. This catalog on CD-ROM offers full bibliographical descriptions of all items in the four collections, allowing for specific search and retrieval performances.
Main fields for searches (‘queries’) include: personal names (of all individuals involved); nature of the occasion; keywords in titles of poems; localities (including place of printing/publication) ; types of illustration; melodies and songs; languages; and literary societies (with information on patronage).
In many cases, the CD-ROM provides additional information on the personal history of the individuals named in the records.
Musicologists, for instance, can quickly establish that 1,474 editions in these collections contain a total of 2,403 songs, based on 1,043 different melodies. Thirteen of these songs are accompanied by musical scores, one of which is in handwriting. The CD-ROM comes free with purchase of the complete collection and is also available separately.
Dr. J.A. Gruys Department of Information Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague