A Brill Calendar: March 26
Bake and the Art of Letter Writing
Few Leyden Professors are as representative for the scholarly and cultural climate in the Romantic Era as John Bake.
The city was all his life: he attended its ‘Gymnasium’, matriculated in the Faculty of Literature & Law aged 15, took his Doctoral Degree in 1810, was appointed as a ‘Conrector’ of his grammar school in 1811, became ‘Extra-ordinarius’ in Greek and Latin literature at the University in 1815 and was promoted to full tenure on that Chair in 1817; occupying it for some four decades.
Among classicists, Bake is still remembered. Before him, Greek & Latin was taught in Leyden to foster erudition along ethical and philosophical lines, but Bake’s appreciation of English philologists like Paul Dobree and Thomas Gaisford changed that outlook. He became an advocate for such basics as grammar and studying structure and elements of existing texts: a new point of departure for his Alma Mater, crowned a generation later by his best student and his Academic successor, the great Carel Cobet (Paris 1813 – Leyden, 1889). Bake didn’t restrict his energies to Academia: he published regularly on pressing social questions and economic affairs.
So far so good; but he should also be mentioned as an enthusiastic traveller in Europe. During these campaigns, Bake visited, in his professional capacity, famous libraries and cities, but he was also impressed by untamed nature and traveling as a ‘modus operandi’. The scholar was wont to keep journal during these adventures; some are preserved in Leyden’s University Library.
Bake followed his usual custom in a vacation of summer 1830. His delightful observations, elegantly written, saw print only 156 years later: they took the form of 17 letters addressed to his second wife; earlier he had been widowed with three children. Because of the health of his Johanna in 1830, she couldn’t join him that year. It is seldom that an outing ends so touchingly. Bake bids in Basel abrupt farewell to his two companions, University colleagues, Jacob Geel and Hendrik Hamaker, overpowered as he became by an irresistible longing for his dear wife, his dear family and his newly born daughter Willemina (Leyden, March 26 1830); in these letters called the ‘little urchin’.