A Brill Calendar: January 8
Few cities in Holland treated their neighbours with true appreciation and warm benevolence. Amsterdam acted as a law into itself as ‘Wirtschaftswunder’, its rise beginning with the loss of Antwerp to Habsburg Spain in 1585.
In a heady cocktail of envy, competitiveness and feelings associated with ranking and chauvinism, Amsterdam, richest city in the world, surrounded by some two dozen lesser municipalities, was deemed lacking in one jewel for its regalia: a prestigious Institute of Learning, comparable with the one in Leyden in terms of global reputation.
Since it is seldom that the might of money and remuneration leaves scholars indifferent – ‘brain-drains’ happening in all ages – Burgomasters and City Council of Amsterdam let the voice of the almighty guilder speak. Without great names no academic glory; and the solvent Regents were soon proved successful.
One great catch was Gerhardus Johannes Vossius. With the solemn opening of Amsterdam’s ‘Athenaeum Illustre’, the famous historian and teacher of rhetoric demonstrated his learned prowess with a well-chosen public address, delivered on January 8, 1632, and entitled ‘De utilitate historiae’: On the Usefulness of History’. Vossius, born in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1577, had obeyed the goddesses Mercuria and Pecunia earlier in his professional life. In 1622 Leyden Curates were astute and solvent enough to enlist the author of ‘Institutiones oratoriae’; as a Professor with a strong reputation of attracting students from all over Europe. Of Vossius’s standing on a trans-national level there is no better proof that he was offered a Chair as a Cambridge Don in England; a post which he denied.
His position in his new urban environment finds expression in his warm friendship with Joost van den Vondel, ‘Holland’s Shakespeare’, as this prolific Roman Catholic poet was often called. Vossius enjoyed the pleasures and possibilities in Amsterdam for the rest of his life, ending on March 17, 1649; in the third city he came to know intimately.