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The crippled heart

Hoewel Willem Godschalck van Focquenbroch (1640-1670) gerekend wordt tot de grotere schrijvers van de Gouden Eeuw, is er van hem in de laatste decennia slechts een enkele tekstuitgave en/of studie verschenen. Tijdens zijn korte maar intense leven schreef hij een bescheiden aantal boeken, die voor ons - in vergelijking met de meeste werken van zijn tijdgenoten - meer relevantie bezitten. Zijn lyrische pozie is erotisch, scherp en geestig. In zijn satirische gedichten steekt hij de draak met de klassieke traditie. Zijn comedies, tenslotte, laten een levendig beeld zien van de samenleving uit die tijd. Tijdens zijn verblijf aan de West-Afrikaanse Goudkust heeft Focquenbroch ook vier lange 'brieven' geschreven. Aangezien er bijzonder weinig Europese teksten over dit gebied uit deze vroege periode bestaan, hebben deze prozateksten zowel een historische als literaire waarde. In deze studie zijn die brieven voor het eerst uitgegeven, vertaald in het Engels en voorzien van annotaties.

Tradition promotes major writers but less well-known authors can be far more representative of an age. That is certainly true of the Dutchman Willem Godschalck van Focquenbroch, who lived between 1640 and 1670. In his brief and poignant life he produced a modest body of work which is more relevant to our age than that of most of his contemporaries. His lyrical poetry is erotic, witty, and moving; his satiric verse mocks the classical tradition, while his comedies present a vivid portrait of contemporary society. Focquenbroch also wrote four long 'letters' from the West-African Gold Coast. Since there are very few European texts from this early period about this region, these prose texts have historical as well as literary value. They are translated and annotated here for the first time, representing the final section of a study, the first in English, that introduces a remarkable seventeenth-century writer to the general reader. E.M. Beekman is Professor of Germanic Languages and Literature at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in the U.S. He is the author of two dozen books.

The crippled heart, an introduction to the life, times and works of Willem Godschalk van Focquenbroch
pagina 127-128

Focquenbroch's African letters are of interest to students of his work, to investigators of the West Indies Company and to historians of the Gold Coast. Their interest for the West Indies Company is due to the fact that very little archival material of the 'old' or original Company survived.1 Such a dire lack of source material makes even these few pages of interest. The letters have also a distinct place in the history of the Guinea Coast. Although not usually touted, Holland's presence on the African coast lasted for over two-and-a-half centuries without interruption; to be precise, from 1612 (when Jacob Adriaensz. Clant erected Holland's first stronghold, Fort Nassau) to April of 1872, when the Kingdom of the Netherlands ceded its rights on the Gold Coast to Britain. Holland had held Elmina for 235 years, from 1637 to 1872. Elmina became not only Focquenbroch's grave, but also Herman Willem Daendels's (1762-1818), one of Holland's more controversial figures. Imbued with the ideals of the French Revolution, Daendels attempted to install a liberal government in Holland but in 1787 he was forced to flee to France. He became a general in the army of the Batavian Republic and was in command when the British invaded North Holland in 1799. After Napoleon had made his brother, Louis, king of the Netherlands in 1806, Daendels was appointed governor-general of the East Indies in 1807. He arrived in Batavia in 1808 and left the Indies in 1811 due to ill health. His tenure was controversial, though he scored some real successes despite a reputation for autocratic management. After he returned to Europe, Napoleon gave Daendels command of a division which took part in the Russian campaign and, after Napoleon's demise, offered his services to the newly established King Willem I of the Netherlands. It has been said that in order to get rid of this difficult individual, the King appointed Daendels governor-general of Guinea in July of 1815. He could not take over from his predecessor until March of 1816. The African possessions had suffered great neglect and Daendels received little support from Holland. He tried to construct a road from the coast to the Ashanti realm, tried to reorganize the outmoded administration and hoped to acquire some personal capital from various plantation ventures. But nothing succeeded or came to fruition. Suffering from malaria and dysentery from the day he arrived, Daendels finally succumbed in May of 1818, and was buried in Elmina's cemetery.2 There never was a voluminous literature on the Gold Coast, hence anything in Dutch should be most welcome. When Focquenbroch set sail for Africa in July of 1668, only four significant texts were available to him in his native tongue. The oldest extensive description of the Guinea Coast is by the Dutchman Pieter de Marees, published in Amsterdam in 1602, and entitled Beschryvinghe ende Historische Verhael van het Gout Koninckrijck van Gunea, Anders de Gout-Custe De Mina Genaemt (Description and Historical Narration of the Gold Kingdom of Gunea. Otherwise Known as the Gold-Coast De Mina). It is the oldest extensive description, for there are a few brief relations and references in earlier authors such as Linschoten, Acosta, Paludanus, and, especially, Hakluyt, who included brief accounts of two British voyages to the Gold Coast in the 1550s (piloted by a Portuguese mariner) in his The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation (1598-1600). The promise of gold was the chief reason why even brief descriptions were included in Hakluyt's monumental vademecum of empire, but De Marees retains the honor of having written the first substantial disquisition.3 We know practically nothing about De Marees,4 but his book was translated into the following languages: German (1603), Latin (1604), French (1605) and English (1625-6). The English translation was an abbreviated version, published in Hakluytus Posthumus, or Purchase his Pilgrimes, by Samuel Purchase (1575-1626), Hakluyt's deleterious successor. About two decades after De Marees, there appeared such an accurate nautical description of the Guinea coast that it remained for years the chief source for navigators. Published in Vlissingen in the province of Zeeland in 1623, the book was entitled Toortse der Zee-Vaert (The Seafarer's Torch) and written by a retired pilot, Dierick Ruyters.5 Another first-hand account was given by Pieter van den Broecke in Korte Historiael ende Journaelsche Aenteyckeninghe (Brief History and Journal Entries) published in Haarlem in 1634. The next important work on the Gold Coast was by Olfert Dapper, published in Amsterdam in 1668 as Naukeurige Beschrijvinge der Afrikaense Gewesten (A Careful Description of the African Regions). Dapper had never seen Africa but compiled his work (which remained a valuable source for many years) from earlier publications, such as De Marees and Ruyters, and from the private notes of an African trader and a later WIC director, Samuel Blomaart. Dapper's book was translated into English, French and German. The next true eyewitness account was Focquenbroch's, first published in the Afrikaense Thalia of 1678, to be followed by the most successful and best-known account of the Gold Coast by a WIC employee, Willem Bosman's Nauwkeurige Beschrijving van de Guinese Goud-Tand-en Slave-kust (Careful Description of the Gold-Tooth-and Slave-Coast of Guinea), published in Utrecht in 1704.

1. Ratelband in Registers, XXV.
2. See Herman Willem Daendels 1762-1818 (Utrecht: Matrijs, 1991), esp. the article 'Daendels en de Goudkust' by W.M. Zappey on pp. 115-122.
3. See Naber in De Marees, XIX-XXIV.
4. Naber in De Marees, XXII-XXIII.
5. Naber in De Marees, XXV-VI, and 313-4; Ratelband in Registers, XXX.
Erwin Nas - kunst, cultuur & reizen - amerigo, 2018