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Exile and Creation in London at the beginning of the Dutch Revolt
by Nigel Smith

In the history that maps the connection between Elizabethan English and its continental cousins, a history in which English and English verse is conventionally understood to be little known on the continent, the influence and authority of first Italian and then French poetry among the English is regarded as an unexceptional commonplace, if aided now with a more detailed history of the role of neo-Latin verse in this arena.  An interesting complication in that general explanation, in which Petrarch, Ronsard, du Bellay and du Bartas, before all others, hold sway, is the presence in England in the later 1560s of several important men of letters from the Low Countries, all of them at the time with Protestant sympathies, during the early stages of the Dutch Revolt.  Most of them were seeking refuge.  These included the distinguished cartographer and geographer Abraham Ortelius (1527-98), the painter and poet Lucas d’Heere (1534-84), the philologist and librarian Janus Gruter (1560-1627), the historian Emanuel de Meteren (1535-1612), and the poet Jan van der Noot (1539/40-1596-1601).  Daniel Rogers (1538-91), of Anglo-Dutch parentage, diplomat, poet and historian, is also important, but he was in Paris at this time, and his period of greatest significance in England comes later.  There were still other notables who would arrive later as refugees, like a very young Daniel Heinsius (1580-1655), or as diplomats, such as Janus Dousa (1545-1604), Noel de Caron (c. 1530-1624) and Theodore Rodenburgh (1574-1644), all except de Caron highly significant literary figures.  However the former group I name stand out for their collective cultural impact in the early stages of what would become the Eighty Years War against Spain and before English military support was sent to aid the emergent Dutch Republic.

Of the exiles Jan van der Noot has always been of singular interest because some of the verse he published during his London sojourn was translated into English by a seventeen-year-old Edmund Spenser, the English poet’s first verse in print.  Spenser’s editor rightly sees his translations from Van der Noot’s Het Theatre oft Toon-Neel waer in ter eender de ongelucken ende elenden die den werelts gesinden ende boosen menschen toecomen (1568) that appeared in A theatre wherein be represented as wel the miseries & calamities that follow the voluptuous worldlings as also the greate ioyes and plesures which the faithfull do enioy (1569) as crucially responsible for later features of his famous English verse: the polarized female archetypes of Protestant polemic, meditation on earthly transience, and mutability, architectural symbolism and allegorical landscapes, sonnet form and archaic diction.  This is so even when we are sure Spenser translated from the French version, and in the context of expert opinion that Van der Noot wrote French verse with less confidence than Flemish.  The other significant matter is Van der Noot’s alleged membership of the perfectionist sect the Family of Love, and the possibility that Spenser too imbibed some Familism from the Antwerp poet to embody in his verse.  A detailed discussion of that issue will have to wait for another occasion, and in what follows I offer a revised view of Van der Noot’s poetry, and that of some of his compatriots who also came to London, so that we might have a more accurate understanding of the relationship between the two bodies of poetry, Dutch (written by Van der Noot in the manner of an inhabitant of the Duchy of Brabant, as he was) and English.  In the available space and with the help of some English translation from Flemish and French, I focus here on Van der Noot’s work least known by English readers, and hence discussion of Het Theatre and Het Bosken is minimized.  Readers should also look elsewhere for discussion of Van der Noot’s innovative use of isosyllabic metre in Dutch.

I - Poetry and Exile

Netherlandish poets were prepared to use love language and the inheritance of Petrarch to talk about their homeland, and indeed to signal its polyglot culture, that it was inherently linguistically mixed.  It was a poetry that mixed Dutch with Latin, Italian, French, English, and eventually German, and that was produced in all of the places where these languages were spoken.  This is particularly so in the case of the work of Van der Noot.  Furthermore, in Het Theatre were some impressive woodcuts usually regarded as an innovation in the history of the printed emblem book and related material.  

It has long been known that the Dutch exiles resident in London in the 1560s and 1570s were connected with Spenser’s teacher, the important humanist Richard Mulcaster and the historian William Camden.  They joined a numerous extant Flemish community of merchants, diplomats and craftsmen, like the merchant and grammarian Johan Rademacher (1538-1617), and more would follow.  Without the craftsmen, none of the major print illustration projects of the Elizabethan era, such as Foxe’s Acts and Monuments, could have been completed.   London is now regarded in Dutch literary history as one of the major production centres, a zone that enabled what became the Dutch Republic’s literary canon, in a real sense part of its official ideology, to be assembled.  Van Meteren produced in London the history of the Dutch Revolt that would be officially adopted by the States General and translated with official encouragement into many languages.  

Van der Noot was at the point of his arrival in England a Calvinist, expelled from Antwerp after a Protestant revolt in 1567 that would have installed him as civic leader.  The nature of that ‘Calvinism’ has been doubted but there is no doubt that he was a participant in a revolt involving an alliance of Lutherans and Calvinists that miserably failed.    Exile in England followed, where he was well connected with Low Countries and other resident exiles, and influential English figures; he was received at the royal court.  His verse elevates the Netherlandish tongue in sonnets and a series of both longer and shorter poems, with a prosodic mastery that has earned him the rank of innovator.  He also wrote sometimes in French, including the literal reproduction of sonnets by the French master poets Marot and Du Bellay, with no acknowledgement of the true authors.  In later printed editions, after his return to Antwerp and Roman Catholicism, each Dutch poem was followed by the comments of a learned man (‘doctor’) who explains in a dialogue its significance, using in parallel and successively Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Latin and Greek, which bring the reader to an understanding of the poem’s contribution.  By this time English had entirely disappeared.  A similar discussion by three women, each in dialogue with a ‘doctor’, speaking respectively in Spanish, Italian and French (and extending in some places to Greek, Latin, Flemish and German), printed in parallel columns, an interspersed running commentary on poetic significance, appears in the later collected works:

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Figures 1 and 2: Jan van der Noot, De poëticsche werken (Antwerp, 1592), 32v- 34r; C 21338, Collectie Stad Antwerpen, Erfgoedbibliotheek Hendrik Conscience.

There seems to be a deliberate attempt to appeal to an elevated female readership, much like the multi-lingual editions of prose romances in the period.  ‘Dr. Agricola’ is Van der Noot voicing his admirer Hendrick Ackermans, discussing the preceding poem with Laura, the muse of Petrarch, Cassandre the addressee of Ronsard, and Marfira, assumed by the poet to be the inspiration of the Spanish poet Juan Boscán.   He also published poetry in loose bundles that could be assembled according to the taste of the reader, a feature that suits well this cross-confessional, cross-lingual context.  

Several poems are addressed to diplomats, and some to princes.  There seems no doubt that he sought both patronage and fame in a diverse and often elevated readership.  In pursuit of both he spent considerable sums of money on the addition of outstanding engravings and woodcuts by important artists in his lifetime such as d’Heere and the great engraver, humanist and philosopher Dirck Volkersz. Coornhert.  Such investments went unrewarded and he died a poor man, frequently appealing to the Antwerp city governors for help.      

Van der Noot’s further debts to Ronsard, Marot and de Baïf are well known and established in scholarship, as well as the diction and approach suggested in du Bellay’s lyric sequences.  In fact this source knowledge extended to Portuguese and Spanish literary exchange that may as likely have been encountered in London as in Antwerp.  But such indebtedness does not invalidate the power and elegance of the love poetry that Van der Noot produced, precisely because it crossed several languages at once on the page in order to uphold the Flemish tongue.  Van der Noot may have been caught up in the Dutch Revolt but his earlier poetry was written before the war with Spain began in earnest.  By 1572 he had returned to the Roman Catholic Church so that the German translation by Balthasar Froe of Het Theatre replaced the Roman church with the devil as the putative villain in both poetry and commentary.  By that year he had moved from London to Cologne, a Roman Catholic city.  His greatest bid for patronage was in 1580 to Archduke Matthias of Austria, Governor of the Low Countries, brother of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II.     

If Van der Noot is an indifferent or sometimes unoriginal French poet, he is still able even in that language to summon energies from the relevant parts of the literary world to make the poetry of Brabant as powerful and prominent as he thought it ought to be.  This is his reply to his follower and associate Guillaume de Poetou in which he describes how he became a poet: 

A iuste droit me conuient rendre grace 

Au Delien & au troupeau diuin 

Qui rengé m’a, plongeant la mienne face 

Dans le grondant ruisselet Cabalin, 

Au rang sacré des immortels Poëtes, 

Et de Musique & peincture amy fait, 

Lanceant dans moy de leur flammes secretes 

Le rauissant & Prophetique trait.

(Right enough it suits me to give thanks      

To Apollo and to the godly flock

Who betrayed me, dipping my face

In the roaring Cabalin stream,

At the sacred rank of the immortal poets,

And made friends of music and painting,

Piercing (in) me with their secret flames

The ravishing and prophetic character.)

This sense of inspiration stayed with Van der Noot and was expanded to include the Holy Spirit as a source.  He is admired for the clarity he brings to the figurative language of the poets inspiring his verse when he borrows from them, but, like the sense of immutable, startling transformation described in the lines above, it is finally the sense of force that he finds in them and retransmits, often amplified, that is so striking:

Waer wilt ghi loopen lief, waer wilt ghi toch al loopen?

Ghy vliet van my scoon lief eer ghy weet wat ick meyne.

Hoe wilt ghi my altyts deen pyn op dander hoopen?

Myn liefde is schoon lief gestadich goet en reyne.

Waerom vliet ghy van my? waer wilt ghi toch al loopen?

Myn liefde touwaerts is gestadich goet en reyne,

Dies en wilt my niet meer d’een pyn op dander hoopen

Maer blyft staen lief, vertoeft en verstaet wat ick meyne.

U schoonheyt suyver maecht en u goede manieren,

U wijsheyt, u verstant en u deucht goedertieren,

U oochskens scoon en claer, en u reyn eerbaer wesen

U suyver blondich haer, u wynbraukens by desen,

Behaghen my soo wel, dat ick tot alle tyen,

By u wel wilde syn twaer in vreucht oft in lyen.

(Where do you wish to go, my love, where do you plan to go?

You flee from me, sweet love, before you know my mind.

Why do you always pile on me one pain upon another?

My love is, sweet love, steadfast, good and pure.

Why do you flee from me? where do you plan to go?

My love for you is steadfast, good and pure,

So, do not pile in me one pain upon another

But wait, my love, stay and understand my mind.

Your beauty, pure maiden, and your good manners,

Your wisdom, your wit and your lenient virtue,

Your eyes comely and clear, and your pure character 

Your flawless blonde hair, likewise your eyebrows,

Please me so greatly, that until the end of time

I long to be with you in joy or in anguish.) 

That sense of poetic force is no less impressive when encountered in the longer and later even more ambitious format of the Olympia Odes (Flemish and French, publ. Antwerp 1579) or its earlier German version Das Buch Extasis (Cologne, 1576), published first and of greater length, but translated from the already extant French version, where the highly expressive engravings play a full role in the poet’s idealism, howsoever their sequence became disordered when they were first printed in Cologne, and where both poems and engravings were never the full length of the original design.  The Flemish and French versions differ slightly, so each has its own translation:

Den tyd’ was hier, en d’uren waren komen

Dat Iupiter wou’ toonen t’mynder vromen

Dat hy oprecht getrou is, en volmaeckt, noch

In al dat hy ons toe-seyt on-gelaeckt, toch·

Soo heb’ ick dan gesien de schoon’ Iongh’ vrouwe

Waer af my had te veuren (op goey trouwe)

Mercurius getoondt d’eyghen Idee

Als hy van Godt de goey’ boodschap’ my dee.

   Als ick heur sagh’ soo schoon’ en goedertiren,

Soe gruette ick heur: en sy med’ goey maniren 

Gruette my weer, med een oot-moedigh wesen

Beleefdelijk, en eerlijk oock by desen.

   Te wijl dat ick bemerckte al-dus heur deughden

En de schoonheydt heurs aensights suet, med vreughden.

(The time was here, and the hours had come

That Jupiter would show to my joy

That he is sincerely true, and perfect, yet

In everything he unreproachable promises us, yet

So I have then seen the beautiful young woman

Where beforehand (in good faith)

Mercurius showed her own image

When he told me the good message from God.

When I saw her so beautiful and merciful,

Then I greeted her: and she with goodly manners 

Greeted me back: with a humble character 

Courteously, and hereby fairly.

   While in the meantime I noticed thus her virtues

And the beauty of her sweet appearance, with joy.)  

Desia le temps estoit venu, & l’heure

Que Iupiter, (qui seul tout bon demeure)

Voulut montrer qu’il est iuste & parfaict

En ce qu’il dict, qu’il asseure, & promect:

Ainsi j’ay veu la Dame gracieuse,

Dont le seul filz de Maia bien-heureuse

M’avoit montré Pourtraict ja predict

Quant de Iupin le message il me fit.

   Quant je la vis si gracieuse & belle,

La saluant luy fis honneur: & elle 

D’un maintien dous, comme faire sauoit,

Et d’vn bon oeil, aussy me saluoit.

Et ce pendant que j’admirois sa grace,

Et la douceur de sa tresbelle face.

(The time has already arrived, and the hour has come

When Jupiter, (who alone remains all good)

Wanted to show that he is just and perfect

In what he says, what he assures, & promises:

Thus I saw there the graceful Lady,

Of whom the only son of fortunate Maia

Had shown me the picture already foretold

When from Jupiter he gave the message for me.

    When I saw her so graceful and beautiful,

Greeting her honored her: and she

With a sweet manner, as she knew to do,

And with a well-affected look, also greeted me.

And meanwhile I admired her grace,

And the sweetness of her very beautiful face.)

Such idealism involved a complicated journey for the poet in a sequence of mixed poetic forms that eventuated in a meeting with Olympia, who represents heaven.  The poet is transformed through the experience into a heavenly being, and where Dutch and French become distinctly divergent poems in places:  

   Deur d’oogen bruyn van Olympia schoone

Bermhertigh, wreedt als sterren in den Troone

Quam Erato na Cupidos beuelen

Omhelsen my, en leyde my voirdts spelen

Seer eerbaerlijck med Godlijker maniren

Op Helicon by den God medt der liren.

    Siet hier sprack sy Appollo broeder goedigh

En ghy Susters siet ier ons kindt veurspoedigh 

Die ons schoon kunst en onsen lof moet brenghen

In Brabant rijck, deur des hemels gehenghen.

   Toen stondt Phoebus neerstighlijck op medt desen

Heetende my hertelijck wilcoem wesen

Soo deden oock syn Susters al’ ghelijke

Beleefdelijc in allen kunsten rijke.

   (Through the brown eyes of beautiful Olympia

Merciful, cruel like stars in the Throne

Erato came at Cupid’s orders

To embrace me, and guided me further to play

Very chaste with divine manners

On Helicon with the God with the lyre.

  ‘Look’, she said, ‘Apollo, kind brother, 

And you, Sisters, look here our prosperous child 

Who must bring our beautiful art and our praise

To Brabant, by heaven’s permission.

  Then Phoebus diligently stood up with these

Dutifully welcoming me warmly

So all his Sisters did alike

Politely, rich in all arts.

  Par les yeux bruns d’Olympia m’Amie

Doux, & cruels, deux flambeaux de ma vie

Vint Eraton parle commandemcnt

De Cupidon, m’embrasser doucemcnt,

Et me mena d’une diuine grace

Pres de mes Seurs sur le mont de Parnasse.

   Phoebus, voicy (dict elle) le voicy,

Et vous mes Seurs nostre enfant, & soucy,

Qui doit mener nostre art & renommée

En son Brabant, chose ainsi destinée.

   Phoebus alors promtement se leua,

Et de bon coeur doucement d’embrassa,

Ainsi faisoient ses neuf Seurs mes.Deesses

            Benignement comme sages Princesses.

                (Through the brown eyes of Olympia my Friend

             Sweet, and cruel, two torches of my life

             Came Erato speaking an order

             Of Cupid, to embrace me sweetly,

             And guided me with a divine grace

             Near my sisters on Mount Parnassus.

                Phoebus, here (says she), here it is,

              And you, my Sisters, our child, and care,

              Who must lead our art and renown

              Into his Brabant, a thing thus destined.

                 Phoebus then promptly got up,

              And kindly gently kissed,             

              So did his nine Sisters, my Goddesses,

              Friendly as wise Princesses.)

It is now established, against a longstanding contrary view, that Van der Noot wrote the Dutch version first, and then translated it himself into French, often trying to perfect the earlier version, even if he was less competent with the second language.  Thus he wrote French-influenced verse in Dutch and then ‘returned’ it to its native idiom.  He speaks of an eleven-year exile, and the discovery of Olympia begins to sound like his return to Antwerp.  Howsoever conventional these claims to be united by poetry with the gods were, they also reveal the passionate need of the exiled poet to demonstrate that he is chosen, beloved and belonging.  Van der Noot never finished his Olympiados as a complete epic, and this text’s modern editor thought the Neoplatonic allegory was derived from Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Venice, 1499). If that is true, it would indeed have been very long as a completed work.  Equally significant is the relationship between the poetry and the masterful engravings prepared by D.V. Coornhert, no doubt sharing Coornhert’s intention of using the engraved image to communicate with a much larger body of people.  It was certainly a way of powerfully reaching out in reading communities where you might be uncertain which languages were actually known.  It was in the Cologne edition of 1576, the text printed by Felix Röschlin (the prefatory ‘Apodixe’) and Heinrich von Aich (main body of the poem), that these engravings were most impressively presented, matched with an extensive prefatory discussion of poetic history:       

A picture containing text, building, outdoor, old

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A picture containing text, book, painting, old

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Figures 3 and 4, Jan van det Noot, Das Buch Extasis (Cologne, 1576), ss. 42, 56; Niedersächsische Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek Göttingen, sm 2 BIBL UFF 412.

The degree of formal experimentation is also marked, especially with the ode, and with explicit connections to Pindar and Horace noticed in prefatory verse by associates.  Such impressive poetic vigour facilitates long, flexible poetic narratives, with modulating stanza organization and prosody, exceeding the more limited formal potential of the sonnet sequence.  Yet like the sonnet sequence, this idealistic language is a way of talking about sexual desire in the most elevated, transferred and astonishing way.  In later collections, epithalamia addressed to specific people are preceded by engravings of muse nymphs rousing the poet to high aspiration: from bed to poetry to heaven.  The long bilingual ode that ends the Cort begryp might be clearly Platonic, and ostensibly concerned with poetry’s ascent to a state of virtue, yet the reader is given the impression of intense excitement as the poet moves from one female figure of an idealized value to another, as if he were giving poetic and narrative substance to a highly rich mental experience.  It is, so to speak, an erotics of the imagination and of wonderment.  There might be logic involved but there is also kissing.  Hymen the god of marriage is present in the divine company.  It is so important to Van der Noot to show that he is part of this glorious world, so that Sophia actually talks to him more or less in the mode of a friendly companion, a girlfriend:

O vander Noot! dees’ vor-ward’ moet ick prysen,

En v begrijp moet ick ook op-recht wysen,

Sprack toens tot my de goedighe Sophie,

Soo deden ooc d’ander Vroukens seer blye.

(O vander Noot! this condition must I praise,

And your wit I must also sincerely point out,

Thus spoke to me the goodly Sophie,

So also did the other very happy nymphs.)

Ha, vander Noot! ceste condition

Est bonne à foy, & ton intention

Nous louons fort, disoit Dame Sofie:

Aussi faisoit toute la compagnie.     

(Ha, vander Noot! this condition

Is good in faith, and your wit

We strongly praise, said Lady Sophia:

So did the whole company).

When perfume enters the scene this cannot be said to be less than very sensual:

Als oudt yuoir sijn heur tandekens clein, wit.

En heur sprake is (merct toch wel in t’gemeyn, dit)

Med eenen reuck verbalsemt alzoo sute,

Dat-men noch criud (soo dat blyct deur heur grute)

Ambre oft Cyuet, in Arabien rijke

En vindt, dat sy, heurs asems reuc ghelijke.

Tien diusentigh Liefden wt heur schoon ooghen

Men comen siet, en vlighen med gedoogen

Veel gracien, om heuren mondt rubynigh

Als melck, en dau suet, en rose-marinigh.

(Like old ivory her small teeth are white

And her speech is (note this still well in general)

With a smell thus sweet balsamed

That people neither plant (so that shines through her greeting) 

Amber nor civet, in rich Arabia

And find that she smells like their odor. 

Ten thousand loves from her clear eyes

One sees come, and fly with toleration

Many graces, around her rosy mouth

Like milk, and sweet dew, and rosemary.)

Ses petis dents sont trop plus blancs qu’yuoire,

Et son parler (plus doux qu’on sçauroit croire)

Est parfumé d’vne soüefue odeur,

Tant douce (à foy) qu’on ne peut trouuer fleur,

Musc, ou parfum, en l’Arabie heureuse

Qui sente mieux que sa bouche amoureuse:     

Dix mille amours sortent de ses beaux yeux,

Et qui plus est, mille graces des cieux

Volent tousiours à l’entour de sa bouche,

Qui plus que miel, rosée, ou manne est douce.   

(Her little teeth are much more white than ivory,

And her talk (sweeter than one would believe)

Is scented with a sweet smell,

So sweet (in faith) that a flower cannot be found,

Musk, or perfume, in happy Arabia

That feels better than her loving mouth:

Ten thousand loves come from her beautiful eyes,

And what is more, a thousand graces of the heavens

Always fly around her mouth,

Which is sweeter than honey, dew, or manna.)



II - The Larger Low Countries Circle

Van der Noot’s exilic verse is an ambitious and prolific aspect of a no less prodigious larger group.  The great classical scholar and librarian Jan Gruter’s (Janus Gruterus; 1560-1627) poems survive as a small collection of just seven (although we know he wrote some five hundred Dutch sonnets): it is thought that he began writing sonnets while in exile in England.  He may have attended Gabriel Harvey’s popular lectures while an undergraduate at Gonville and Caius College, on which occasions the Elizabethan poetry project was set out to students.  While the clichéd nature of the imagery of these poems has been noticed and is their limit, perhaps the most impressive is the one in a letter to the poet, scholar and statesman Janus Dousa the Elder (Jan van de Does; 1545-1604) that doubts his, Gruter’s, own powers.  The personal note is sufficient to make the poem rise above the merely conventional, and perhaps the inspiration the poet takes from Dousa alludes to the academic’s bravery when he personally took up arms, with no prior training, during the Siege of Leiden by the Spanish in 1573-4:  

    AD IANUM DOUSAM

Dicwyls heeft my gedorst naer een Naem, op wiens vlerc

   Ic van Titans opganc, tot d’west oort wiert gedragen.

   Doch al om niet; ten waer ic aenving’ sulk’ anslagen

   Als hy die stac aen brant Dianas groote kerc.

Maer siet!  zo ic was de Wanhop’  tevrende werc

   Comt gy, DOUSA, van selfs, en heft my op een wagen

    Wiens henxten zo verr’ hen boven Jupins rat jagen,

   Dat ic derf nemermeer yet vreesen voor den zerc.

Fy fy Proserpyns vliem, fy fy Styx coude kayen.

    Onsterflyc is myn hert. Flux dan met sulken trot

   Wil ic, een anderen Triptolem, zo gaan sayen

Dyn Lof, DOUSA, over al, dat geen van t’ hemelsch rot,

   Geen mensch, geen beest, geen visch, geen vogel, sich verfrayen

   Zal, dan in stéds dy te heeten haer hoochste God.

(TO JANUS DOUSA/JAN VAN DER DOES

Often I have thirsted for a name, on whose wing     

        I from Titan’s ascent, unto the western place was carried.

        Yet all in vain; even though I would start such attacks

        Like him who put out fire in Diana’s great church.

But see! when I was despairing living work    

    You come, DOUSA, of yourself, and have lifted me on a chariot

    Whose stallions so far hunt them above Jupiter’s wheel,

    That I dare no longer to fear death.

Fie fie Proserpine’s lance, fie fie Styx’s cold stones.     

       My heart is immortal. Then treading with such pride

        I, a second Triptolemus, would like to sing

Your praise, DOUSA, above everything that no one from the heavenly gang,       

        No man, no beast, no fish, no bird, shall claim

        Himself, but ever in eternity to hail you as their highest God.)

 

This was written in 1583, and hence well after Van der Noot’s time in England; one year earlier and that personal note was a distinguishing element in an occasional sonnet for Ortelius, the Antwerp cartographer:  

De goden heb ic dic gescholden over hoopen

   Om ons t’Leven met zulc cleyn parc t’hebben bepaelt;

   Dat, al wierden wy steeds van Hygaea bestraelt,

   Het t’eng’  waer om een deel der werelt te doorlopen.

Maer nu doet my den mont ORTELIVS toecnoopen,

   Leerend’, hoe dat men can aenschouwen onverdwaelt,

   AL wat TITAN verwermt, t’ sy hy ryst, t’ sy hy daelt,

   Sonder te spannen spor’, of voet int meyr te doopen.

Ia dat meer is: hy geeft de WERELT in besit,

   En maect ons Heer daer van.  Myn hant schenct u nu dit,

  Zeyt hy; maer gy moecht noch wel meer van my verwachten.

O overschoone gift! O onwerdeerlyc VAT!

    Waer blyfdy nu Phlips zoon?  die dy so groot ded’ achten,

  Om dattu wed’rom, gaaf’st PORVS zyn eygen schat.  

(I have often cursed the gods extremely

    Having determined us to live with such small confinement;

    That, although we were always irradiated by Hygiea,

    It would be too narrow to go through a part of the world.

But now ORTELIVS makes my mouth silent,

    Teaching, how that man can show without going astray

    All TITAN heats, whether he rises, or he descends,

    Without riding with horses, or sailing.

Yes, that is more: he gives possession of the WORLD,

    And make us Lord of it. ‘My hand gives you this now,’

    He says, ‘but you might well yet expect more of me.’

O beautiful gift! O invaluable VESSEL! 

   Where are you now, Philip’s son? You who thought so greatly of yourself, 

   Since you gave PORUS his own treasure back.)

It is the similarity with Van der Noot, and not that of the Leiden poets Dousa and Jan van Hout, that led Forster to argue that Gruter’s poetic style was lastingly formed in England.   

Another exile still in England in this period was the Ghent painter-poet Lucas d’Heere (1534-84), who taught that hugely important painter-poet Karel van Mander, and who actually wrote the very first sonnets in Dutch.  D’Heere produced important images of the Elizabethan court and a prose description of his time there and elsewhere in England.  Like Gruter’s poems, d’Heere’s are addressed to people: friends, associates, not mistresses, real or ideal.  D’Heere may not be excitingly brilliant like P.C. Hooft of the following generation, or dazzlingly effective like Van der Noot, but he is so experimental as to be able to conjure an arresting atmosphere and addresses the fulfillment of marriage as opposed to amorous frustration.  His presumed earliest poem, addressed to his wife, includes the line: ‘Naer dien ons liefde is zulc eenen stricken pilaer’ (l. 9; Since our love is such a strong pillar).   The reader quickly understands that this is poetry of a superior order, affirming the epigrammatic verse that accompanies visual art over chronicle history and the image on a medal of a great figure in history:

De Chronijcken gheeft men dese eere en glorie,

Datse sijn ghetughen van zaken voorleden,

Meestersse des leuens, d’leuen, de memorie, 

Het licht der waerheit, ende ooc des outheits zeden. 

Want men siet daerinne wat alle andere deden,

Ende waermede dat si wel voeren eenpaer, 

Ofte waer deur si quamen in druck en onvreden: 

D’welc heet met d’sanders schade wijswerden voorwaer. 

Maer wat verdient sulx d’welc de cronijcken (zom swaer

Tweedragtich, en besmet met faulten bouen schreuen) 

Maect verstandich, suuer, accordigh ende claer? 

Dit doen de Medaillen; maer wat zijnse alle gaer,

Zonder het uutlegh dat ghy daerop cont gheuen, 

Dan een doot lichaem? d’welck ghy gheeft gheest en leuen?

(To the chronicles people give this honor and glory,

That they are witnesses of events that have happened,

Masters of lives, of life, of memory,

The light of truth, and also of morality of antiquity.

Because people see therein what everyone else did,

And by which that they went well, united,

Or by which they came into pressure and discord:

Which for sure means becoming wise with other’s damage.

But what earns that which the chronicles (some heavily

disharmonious, and infected with faults beyond measure)

Make sensible, pure, unanimous and clear?

The medals do this; but what are they altogether,

Without the explanation that you can give therefrom,

Than a dead body? That which you give spirit and life?)

There is also here a distinctly Petrarchan voice, and indeed an urbane, tempered voice that, as it contemplates paintings, expresses more than mere depiction of ut pictura poesis.  A figure in the painting speaks:

XLIX Sonet, van het excellent stick van schilderyen, staende in het huus van Iacob Weytens te Ghent. Een van de gheschilderde vraukens spreeckt. 

Wy zijn geschildert hier, al schinen wi leuende 

   Bi Hugues vander goust, een meester excellent 

   Die in ons sijn const’ was tooghende en uutgeuende, 

   Ter liefden van eene onder ons eerbaer en gent. 

Wt welcke men de liefde, die hi haer drough, kent 

   Zomen uut de beelde van Phryna mogt anschauwen

   De liefde die Praxiteles haer drough ten hent: 

   Want si neemt uut buten alle ons dochters en vrauwen.  

Hoe wel het isser al constigh in alder vauwen, 

   Tsi mannen, vrauwen, esels (welke sijn ghemeene)  

   Tsi peerden, oft tschoon coleur gheduerigh en reene.  

Maer voor al tooghde hi an ons sijn constigh ingien: 

   Want niet en faelt doch an ons dan de sprake alleene  

   Welcke fault en zelden is in vrauwen ghesien. 

(XLIX Sonnet, on the excellent piece of painting, hanging in the house of Iacob Weytens in Ghent. One of the painted little women is speaking.)

We are painted here, although we seem alive,
    By Hugh van der Goust, an excellent master
    Who in us was showing and pronouncing his art,
    From love of one of us who is honorable and elegant.
From this one knows the love, that he gave her,
    As one may know from the picture of Phryne
    The love that Praxiteles finally gave to her,
    Because she shines out above all our daughters and wives.
Although it is very artful there, in all ways,
    Either men, women, donkeys (which are common)
    Either horses, or the bright color continuous and of great quality.
But before all he showed to us his skillful talent:
    Since we lack nothing, but for speech alone
    Which fault is rarely present in women.)

The poem is about painting, but finally concerns itself with d’Heere’s own poetic talent: he is telling us that he cannot find the words to praise this wonderful painting in a very artful poem full of words. Yet at the same time, alas, he is also saying with faint but present sarcasm that women are verbose. D’Heere published his influential collection Den hof en boomgaerd der poësien (The Garden and Orchard of Poems) in 1565, just before he came to England, but continued to use verse in pursuit of patronage in England, exemplified in the handsomely produced poetic manuscript volume ‘Tableau Poetique’ presented to Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford (1537-1621).  Here d’Heere praised in French rather than Flemish the holiness of Protestant English clergymen, who feed the souls of people with ‘divine food’, and where Seymour himself is described as a second and better Apollo, leading a concordant ‘sweet music.’   

He had in fact spent time in Paris and like Van der Noot was influenced by the Pléiade poets.  Den Hof en Boomgaerd begins with a translation of Clement Marot’s ‘Le Temple de Cupidon’.  A further twenty-one translations of Marot’s poems follow in this volume, and the genres of epigram, blazon, epistle and elegy make their first appearances in Dutch literature in these pages.  Just as in England, so d’Heere was in Paris before his arrival in London as a court artist for the queen mother, Catherine de Medici, but the French poets were available in the Antwerp book markets and some of the poetry had been printed there before his southward journey.   The violence of both Protestant iconoclastic riots and the Spanish reaction would result in d’Heere’s flight to London where he collaborated with Van der Noot, and continued to write Dutch verse for the exile community.  The most impressive is ‘Op den Visionen van mijn Heere Vander Noot’, prefatory verse for Het Theatre.   Back in the Netherlands, the Duke of Alva closed the chambers of rhetoric and the poetic life of the Low Countries was severely disrupted.   

 

III - Conclusion

The Anglo-Netherlandish connections are clear enough.  A d’Heere painting and the presentation poetry painted on its frame have been seen as a source for satirical reference in Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta (1590); he was also responsive to Ortelius’s maps.  Andrew Hadfield very plausibly suggests that the young Spenser may well have known Van der Noot personally through Mulcaster.  After the Theatre sonnets we can see a parallel interest between the two poets in the expression of Neoplatonic idealizing poetry, matching Van der Noot’s earlier Het Bosken and Olympiads with the Foure Hymnes (seen by Hadfield as possibly later revisions of verse written first in the late 1560s or early 1570s), the Amoretti and the Epithalamion, The Ruines of Rome, and sections of The Faerie Queene, especially the representation of the power of pastoral performance in Book VI, Canto x.  It is as if the figurative representations of the poet’s career in Spenser, as in Colin Clovts Come Home Againe, are combined with the idealistically Neoplatonic Spenser of the shorter lyrics to produce the central poetic of Van der Noot.  The common concern is putting into words, and also for Van der Noot, pictures, of entities and forces that you cannot see.  Van der Noot’s inspired poet in his 1570s verse encountering the female figures representing ideal virtues brings to mind An Hymne of Heavenly Beautie, ll. 78-84:

Faire is the heauen, where happie soules haue place,

In full enioyment of felicitie,

Whence they doe still behold, the glorious face

Of the diuine eternall Maiestie;

More faire is that, where those Idees on hie

Enraunged be, which Plato so admyred,

And pure Intelligences from God inspyred.

 

The discussion of poetics in the Apodixe dialogue, the preface to Das Buch Extasis (1576) suggests clear common interests with the Spenser-Gabriel Harvey circle, and conversations that could have taken place in late 1560s London, but of which no evidence has yet been found.  In particular, there are suggestive references to pagan mythology, epic tradition, allegory, the nature of the poetic fable, virtue, nobility, Lucretius, the representation of the natural world in verse, as Van der Noot laid out plans for his projected epic Europeiad that would never be realized.  However, there are also differences: Spenser has little interest in Spanish poetry; Van der Noot places ancient vatic inspiration much closer than Spenser does to godly enthusiasm.  In any case in 1571 Van der Noot left London.  Thereafter the two poets lived in distinctively different and distant worlds, environments that became more remote once Spenser had left for Ireland in 1580 (and was in Cambridge, briefly France, possibly Lancashire and Ireland, and intermittently London before then).                 

In 1568 Jan van der Noot fled Antwerp for the safety of a sympathetically Protestant London.  Then in Cologne in the following decade he turned again.  That makes for a very notable kind of enthusiastic, Neoplatonic verse, comparable yet still different to Spenser’s elated Neoplatonism in the Four Hymns.   Given their close link, a bond in the instance of translation we might say, the later episodes of their careers form a mutually illuminating contrast, neither a conjunction nor an identity.  Both poets are keenly interested in the long traditions of poets and poetry that they are able to articulate, but they understood their inspiration to be in different places, and their respective poetic goals were also quite distinct.  Spenser was a poet of one language, even if very knowledgeable of classical, medieval and early modern antecedents, but for Van der Noot to be a Brabant poet meant to write in Netherlandish and French, his verse appeared in other languages and his literary awareness was exceedingly multilingual.     

This is an encouraging ending point: not a negative denial of connection to extinguish a debate, but a call for a more detailed analysis of the shared and interacting poetic and cultural resources of a community temporarily resident in a major city that did not always enjoy perfect linguistic communion.  Van der Noot knew little English, Spenser little Dutch or German.   There were figures in this world, like Daniel Rogers and George Gascoigne, who were adept in both languages, and did not need French as an intermediary.  We need to read the Dutch (or Flemish/Brabantish), the Low German and the German, and not only focus on the influence of the visual art of the exiles, be it paintings, engravings, emblems or maps, on English letters.  

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52.2.2

Cite as:

Nigel Smith, "Exile and Creation in London at the beginning of the Dutch Revolt ," Spenser Review 52.2.2 (Spring-Summer 2022). Accessed December 6th, 2022.
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