A Brill Calendar: January 10
The Birth of Eduard Meijers
Few contemporary commentators on world-encompassing legal structures, affairs and jurisprudence fail to notice the rather unique ‘focal’ role the present Kingdom of The Netherlands, with its Government Seat and Parliament in The Hague, is playing.
This extraordinary position is deeply rooted in European history and politics. City names like Breda, Maastricht, Nijmegen, Rijswijk and Utrecht are short-hand for historical treaties and European alliances after the Middle Ages; while the World’s first Peace Conference was held in The Hague, late in the 19th century, and was hosted by Wilhelmina, a Queen then just eighteen years old. When Andrew Carnegie financed the building of a Peace Palace with his privy purse there, he knew what he was doing.
It is seldom acknowledged that this juridical prestige of The Netherlands can be also traced back to a Gideon’s band of superb legal academic minds; seemingly they have consistently flourished in these parts. To begin with, Hugo Grotius (1583 -1645), alumnus of Leyden University from 1598. Much later, a roll-call of the Asser dynasty serves in this respect, including the honour of an early Nobel Prize.
Later again, the towering figure of Eduard Maurits Meijers (Den Helder, January 10 1880 – Oegstgeest, June 25, 1954) is a ‘locus classicus’ for the tradition. As a Leyden Professor since 1910, Meijers – who graduated in Amsterdam – initially taught private law in Leyden; both civil and international; a ‘folio’ augmented later by scholarly historiography of law generally. Of Jewish extraction, he was heroically and publicly defended by his admiring and much younger colleague, Cleveringa, when the Nazi occupiers tried to ‘cleanse’ Dutch Academia from a presumed omnipresent and "pernicious" Semite influence.
After WW II, the liberated national Government commissioned Meijers to write a brand-new Civil Code. And he could have done it – virtually single-handedly, according to his few professional peers - if death wouldn’t have surprised him. What a man; what a track-record.