A Brill Calendar: January 21
The Rights of Adriaan Pieter Marie van Oordt
Few people knew what to do when Evert Jan Brill died suddenly on November 29 1871, aged 60.
After painstakingly disentangling himself from his business affairs after decades of tireless work in scholarly publishing and printing, and loosening the heartfelt and all-demanding ties with his enterprise, the old bachelor had just enough time enjoy the fruits of a new life; marrying Cornelia Dibbets on May 4th 1871.
In his will & testament, Brill had legated the company to his brothers; one of them a Professor in Utrecht University, the other an author of juvenile literature and draughtsman in the small town of Woudrichem; both of them unlikely candidates for replacing a unique phenomenon in the history of scholarly publishing. For a short while two professional friends of the deceased, Nicolaas de Graaf and Martinus Nijhoff, also Dutch ‘doyens’ of the trade, ran the Brill business to help out, until both inheritors and the young widow decided between themselves to sell the property; lock, stock and barrel.
It is seldom that a legacy of this nature found a more unlikely new owner; in the person of Adriaan Pieter Marie van Oordt (1840 – 1903). The deed transferring the industrial property dates from January 21, 1872; van Oordt, in his early thirties, could call himself rightful owner as per February 15 of that year, some four weeks later. Academically trained as a theologian, and a man who had seen his doctoral thesis thwarted by circumstance, Van Oordt had become a Leyden citizen in the year Brill died; coming to study there at the Law Faculty, as an independently wealthy man, one just married, and a perfect stranger in the Jerusalem of scholarly publishing.
Given the importance of continuity for this type of business, it should come as no surprise that the new owner saw no need to add his surname to the prestigious, well-established imprint. What goes for small books, ‘libelli’, goes for great publishers as well: ‘habent sua fati’; they also have their destinies.