A Brill Calendar: June 10
Few calendar years are as crucial for what was to become the Kingdom of The Netherlands as 1796.
The first session of an unprecedented body politic, the ‘National Convention’, was held in a large state-room in what was previously a Palace of the Orange Stadholders on March 1 that year. On the opposite side of the Binnenhof Square, the States-General, embodying an antiquated federal State of almost independent Provinces, closed their last session. Since 1594, they had met every day; Sundays and Feast-days included. The brand-new National Convention of the ‘Batavian Republic’ resulted from the first ever Dutch parliamentary elections, held earlier that year.
The momentous shift made itself felt in 1796 in Leyden University as well. That year Matthijs Siegenbeek (Amsterdam, 1774 – Leyden, 1854) became the first Professor in the national language and oratory, while Johannes Hendrikus van der Palm (Rotterdam, 1763 – Leyden, 1840) was appointed to teach Eastern Languages. Before too long Van der Palm, an inveterate public speaker, was selected as ‘Agent’ (read ‘Minister’) of Education, preparing for the creation of public elementary schools.
Scholarly and academic interest in the mother-tongue and its written products, (domestic literature and ‘belles lettres’, something else than Erasmian ‘bonae litterae’) was a novelty during the first half of the 19th century. When the young poet Jacques Perk (Dordrecht, June 10 1859 – Amsterdam, November 1 1881) created in his short life a unique and controversial oeuvre, a new awareness of contemporary Dutch literature within a European perspective had been realized. During this adolescence of a ‘national’ literature it is seldom that a renovated Leyden University wasn’t involved in developments, one way or another; sometimes even as a decisive influence. The creation of a ‘National Pantheon’ was not a minor objective for 19th century Academicians.