P.C. Hooft, Nederlandsche Historiën, 1703,
paper, 38 x 25 x 6.5 cm. Collection of Rijksmuseum Muiderslot,
A War on Paper
“I am taking on a work full of changing fortunes and many events; terrible with battles on land and water, sieges, bitter with strife, confused with mutiny, tarnished with murderous acts, acerbic with cruelty…” This is how P.C. Hooft started his life’s work, the Nederlandsche Historiën. After becoming known as a poet and playwright in his youth, Hooft focused on writing historic works in the last thirty years of his life. He wanted to record the rebellion against the Spanish in his ‘Histories of the Netherlands’. He was thorough and tried to collect as many sources as possible, sending letters throughout Europe and listening to the testimony of eyewitnesses. Sometimes, Hooft was unlucky. In Amsterdam, his city of birth, for instance, he was not allowed to consult the city archives. It made no difference that he was the son of one of the longest-serving and influential mayors of Amsterdam ever (Cornelis Pieterzoon Hooft). Despite making every effort to check his sources, Nederlandsche Historiën is not known for its accuracy but rather for its rich language. Hooft was a true linguistic innovator, unafraid of turning loanwords from the French language into Dutch or conceive new words. The first twenty parts of this magnum opus were published in 1645; the last seven appeared after his death in 1647. They were printed as large books with beautiful prints.