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The Interdependence of Literature
Dutch Literature
by Curtis, Georgina Pell

Erasmus said of Ghent at the end of the fifteenth century that there was no city in Europe that could compare with it in greatness, power, and the cultivation of its people. The lays of the minstrels and the chivalric romances of other nations were translated into Dutch. In the middle of the thirteenth century Reynard the Fox was rendered into the same language, while this era also saw a translation of the Bible made into Flemish rhyme.

The close of the fourteenth century saw the rise of some wandering poets called Sprekers, who visited the courts of Kings and Princes and became so popular that in the fifteenth century they were federated into different societies that became known as "Chambers of Rhetoric," somewhat similar to the German Guilds of the Meistersingers. These societies spread rapidly through the country, and from rhyme the members passed to the mystery plays, and to the beginnings of the drama.

The Court of Burgundy in the fifteenth century brought a strong French element into the literature of the Dutch nation, and the poets and chroniclers of that age are chiefly Flemish.

The taste for Greek and Latin was introduced into Holland in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries by Erasmus and Grotius, the two most learned men among the Dutch literati of their age.

Hooft in the seventeenth century made an extensive study of Italian poetry, and succeeded in imparting to his tragic and lyric verse a certain quality of sweetness and volume which it has since retained. His style, which also embraces tragedy, has been extensively imitated by his own countrymen.

Nearly the whole of the eighteenth century passed without any advancement in Dutch literature. The country experienced the French influence, in common with the rest of Europe; and French works and translations abounded. Toward the close of this century German taste began to predominate, and a young Dutchman, Van Effen, founded a magazine in French, called the "Spectator," which was in imitation of, and on the same lines as the English magazine of the same name. Many native writers arose at this time and gained distinction in poetry, prose and the drama; but the overthrow of the Dutch Republic, and the confusion attending it, for a time extinguished the national literature, and the beginning of the nineteenth century saw the country flooded with poor translations of foreign books, and all the noble national literature was forgotten. This evil was partly remedied in the latter part of the nineteenth century; but as a whole, the Dutch literature, while it has been influenced by foreign taste, has had little or no weight outside of its own nation, and has not in any way shaped the literature of other peoples.


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