Frans Houttuyn, Amsterdam Bookseller:
Preaching, Publishing and the Mennonite Enlightenment
KEITH L. SPRUNGER*
Abstract: Frans Houttuyn, disciple of Newton and other Enlightenment thinkers, was an eighteenth-century Mennonite bookseller, publisher and preacher of Amsterdam. His bookshop, the “Isaac Newton,” was a hub for like-minded Mennonites in discussing new ideas and buying books with up-to-date views. On Sundays he preached Mennonite sermons. Houttuyn aimed to harmonize Enlightenment values of science, rationality and toleration with the Mennonite faith. He was one of many intellectual Mennonites exploring this link. His particular role in the Dutch Mennonite Enlightenment was to publish and disseminate books. Houttuyn published many Mennonite-authored books and was one of the most active in producing “spectatorial” journals. Although Houttuyn’s name in Enlightenment and Mennonite history is less visible than the learned theologians and writers of the books, his role as publisher-bookseller, like others in the book trade, is one that deserves attention.
The Amsterdam bookshop of Frans Houttuyn was marked by an overhead sign, “The Isaac Newton.” The publisher’s mark on his books had the same emblem. Frans Houttuyn (c. 1719-1765), Mennonite publisher and preacher, was clearly an enthusiastic disciple of Sir Isaac Newton, the scientific giant of the age. Houttuyn’s engraved publishing mark, or emblem, found in nearly all of his books, showed a portrait of Newton, a sketch of a lumberyard (the literal meaning of his own name, Hout-tuyn) plus small images of a printing shop and a bookstore. Holding it all together was Houttuyn’s motto: Aedificando floret. Let edification flourish.
By linking his name to that of Newton, he gave a touch of elegance and intellectualism to his business. The eighteenth century called itself the “Age of Enlightenment,” and Houttuyn as a publisher-bookseller saw himself as one of the agents of human “edification,” and enlightenment. On Sundays he served as a Mennonite preacher in his church. Were these contradictory pursuits? Houttuyn believed he could harmonize the two worlds of the enlightenment and Mennonite religion. Dutch historians refer to a “Protestant Enlightenment” or “Christian Enlightenment.” In the same spirit, Frans Houttuyn and his wider Houttuyn family were at the heart of a “Mennonite Enlightenment” that heavily utilized Frans’s skills in publishing and bookselling. The goal was to integrate rationality, culture and religious faith.
Houttuyn’s publisher’s emblem
HOUTTUYN’S EARLY LIFE AT HOORN
Houttuyn’s parents, Pieter Adriaansz Houttuyn (1683-1736) and Aaltje Jacobs Vogel (1680-1757), were part of a leading Frisian Mennonite family of Hoorn and Amsterdam. Frans was born somewhere in the middle of four siblings: Jannetje, Jacob, Aafje and Adriaan. At the time of his birth around 1719, Hoorn had two Doopsgezinde (Mennonite) churches; his family belonged to the Frisian Mennonite congregation, although some members of the extended family belonged to the other church, the Waterlander Mennonite. In 1747 the two Mennonite congregations merged into a single United Mennonite congregation. Frans’s father, like many of the Houttuyns, was a church leader, serving as a Frisian lay preacher, a dienaar des woord (preacher of the Word). In time, Frans’s brother Jacob (1711-1789) became a preacher; and another brother, Adriaan (d. 1783),was a deacon. A cousin, Adriaan Cornelisz Houttuyn (c.1700-1777), was another of the Mennonite preachers of Hoorn. In the mid-eighteenth century, being a Mennonite preacher was part-time work, a lay calling to go alongside an occupation intended to earn a living. Jacob and Adriaan were merchants, owners of a large cheese business. Taken as a whole, the various Houttuyn family branches constituted a solid corps of respectable, prosperous citizens, certainly a part of the commercial “elite” of Hoorn, active as merchants, medical doctors, preachers and, as in the case of Frans, an occasional bookseller-publisher.
The Houttuyn family members were liberal and progressive, active in many reform movements of the Dutch Republic. The historian Luuc Kooijmans went so far as to call the Houttuyns of Hoorn the “axis” of the Mennonite Enlightenment. Wherever good works and progressive belief existed, the Houttuyns were likely to be there. For many years, they supported the liberal Rijnsburger Collegiant movement, which had a strong presence at Hoorn. The central meeting place of this philosophical-religious group was at Rijnsburg, near Leiden, but local chapters or collegia sprang up elsewhere. Its liberal philosophy, which appealed to many educated Mennonites, called for one to think broadly, rationally and tolerantly in religious matters and to act for the good of humanity. A medical doctor, Maarten Petersz Houttuyn, and Adriaan Cornelisz Houttuyn, a pastor, both of whom were cousins of Frans, attended meetings at Rijnsburg, and Adriaan was sometimes called upon to preach. In literary affairs, Maarten and Adriaan joined the famous literary circle of Elizabeth (Betje) Wolff and Aagje Deken, who lived at De Rijp. The Wolff-Deken books and their literary gatherings promoted liberal religious and social ideas, epitomizing “the spirit of the Dutch Protestant Enlightenment.” On another front, Frans’s brothers, Jacob and Adriaan, the cheese merchants, supported patriotism and humanitarianism by joining Cornelis Ris (1717-1790), a fellow Hoorn Mennonite leader, in his Vaderlandsche Maatschappij van Reederij en Koophandel (Patriotic Association for Shipping and Trade), an association for the advancement of commerce, shipping, trade and relief of the poor (established 1777). The Houttuyn publishing firm published Ris’ initial prospectus of the society.
Although the Houttuyns were a prominent family, and much reported on, specific information about the birth and early years of Frans Houttuyn at Hoorn is sparse. The eighteenth-century record books of the Mennonite church did not report his birth. His birth date can be surmised from the records of the Hoorn Latin school, where a Frans Houttuyn, eleven years of age, enrolled in 1730 (which placed his birth around 1719). The church records do show that he was baptized at the Frisian Mennonite church on March 8, 1739. In later statements, Houttuyn indicated that he began to learn the printing and book trade while young and living at Hoorn.
THE MOVE TO AMSTERDAM: BUSINESS, FAMILY AND CHURCH
Sometime in the early 1740s Frans Houttuyn moved to the large city of Amsterdam where, by 1745, he had established his “Isaac Newton” publishing business and began putting out books. His first title pages had the following address: “Amsterdam, F. Houttuyn, Boekverkooper op den Nieuwendyk over de Baefjes-steeg, in Isak Newton” (Bookseller on the Nieuwen Dike by the Baefjes-Steeg, in the Isaac Newton Book Store). By 1748 he had moved household and business to “Op het Water, recht tegenover de Papen-brug” (Op t’ Water opposite the Papen Bridge). This put him in a very central location for the book trade. Op ‘t Water is today called the Damrak, a main street (and filled-in canal) leading up to the Central Train Station. The Papen Bridge itself has disappeared. His publisher’s device (emblem), used on the title pages, included a clear image of a hump-backed bridge, perhaps the historical bridge, or just a symbolic one. He registered for Amsterdam citizenship on March 24, 1745, (“Frans Houttuyn van Hoorn Boekverkooper”) and joined the booksellers guild on April 5 of the same year. In his application, Houttuyn declared that he had learned his knowledge of the book trade back in Hoorn.
Houttuyn’s plans and dreams were ambitious. His first book carried the announcement that he published and sold the “best and newest works of philosophy, philology, history and so forth, and handled books in the Latin, French, English and Dutch languages.” He intended to stand out in Amsterdam publishing.
He also began his own family. On April 16, 1747, he married Geertruyd Olyslager, also from Hoorn, and they eventually had seven children (none of whom entered the business). Geertruyd died on July 20, 1758, a few days after giving birth to a son. The next year, Frans married for a second time, to Eva van den Bosch on April 6, 1759, and they had one child, Eva. His second wife died in 1761, leaving Houttyn to care for the children on his own.
In line with the family tradition, Frans and Geertruyd joined the Frisian Mennonite church, called the Noah’s Ark in reference to the nickname of the meetinghouse. After a few years of membership, the church in 1750 chose Frans to become one of the lay preachers, an unpaid position he held for the rest of his life. Geertruyd was baptized in the church on March 28, 1751.
Houttuyn quickly left his mark on the history of the church. Because the Noah’s Ark church was declining in members and resources, Houttuyn vigorously urged a union with one of the stronger Mennonite churches in Amsterdam. Despite considerable opposition from several fellow members, he successfully masterminded a merger of the Ark congregation with the Sun (Zon) Mennonite Church (so called because its building was decorated with a yellow sun on the gable). The Zonists, like the members of the Noah’s Ark church, were a little more conservative than those who attended the other Mennonite churches of Amsterdam. In 1752, at the time of the final arrangements and transfer of property, Houttuyn headed the Ark’s council and had the position of “praeses” or president of the church. As such, he signed the legal documents. His name also appeared as defendant on a legal action by a few disgruntled church members challenging the merger. The protest papers addressed their suit against “De Heer Frans Houttuyn woonende op het Waater over the Papen Brug binnen deese stadt” (Mr. Frans Houttuyn, Residing in This City on the Water by the Papen Bridge).
Because the merger arrangements stipulated that every preacher of each church was to be retained in office, Houttuyn now served as one of the preachers of the merged Zonist church. Although the church records show that he took his regular turn at preaching, his religious activities drew hardly any comment. There were no reports about him, except for routine mention in church board minutes. With one exception. In 1762 he spoke up about having to do extra turns in the pulpit when Professor Petrus Smidt did not fill all of his preaching assignments. This led to arguments in the church council, during which Smidt called Houttuyn “very unfriendly.” Apparently, Houttuyn was rather reluctant to go “the extra mile” in church duties.
The interior of the Noah’s Ark, where Houttuyn preached
Although Houttuyn was unexceptional in his public preaching and utterances, his publishing skills made a useful contribution to the church, as well as providing him with increased income. Working with individual Mennonite authors, he published a variety of books that contributed to church life. In conjunction with his new membership in the Zonist church, for example, he got orders for catechism booklets (called question or vraag books) and other printing supplies, such as notebooks for the preachers (beurt boekjes). No doubt, this was steady and profitable business for him. The merger agreement prescribed that the united church would use both the Ark’s traditional Frisian catechism book and the Zonist-favored catechism book. Houttuyn reprinted the Zonist Kort onderwys des Christelyke geloofs voor de jeugd from time to time, once doing over 1300 copies.
The Mennonite churches had considerable business for printers and booksellers because of the annual awarding of “prize books.” Every year the Noah’s Ark and Zon churches gave a nice prize book on an edifying religious topic to each of the catechism children. They chose a prize book that would be attractive and appeal to the interests of children, and at the same time be morally instructive. A bookseller would recommend a title-a book with eye-catching etchings by Jan Luyken was a popular choice-and the church council would approve it. Mennonite booksellers competed for these book orders because the church paid well for the books and usually bought a considerable number. Houttuyn managed to get these book orders many times (in 1751 at the Ark, and fourteen times at the Sun church between 1746 and 1765). Meanwhile, he took his occasional Sunday preaching assignments when called upon, his last sermon coming on April 25, 1764. His last sale of books to the church was January 16, 1765, although his successor firm sold books to the church for years after. He died on July 23, 1765. All in all, except for his book endeavors, Pastor Houttuyn did not stand out in church affairs.
THE HOUTTUYN CIRCLE
It was in bookselling and publishing that Frans Houttuyn found his true calling and joy of life. His home base was his well-stocked bookshop, the “Isaac Newton.” This business functioned under his management from 1745 to 1765; after his death it continued as “Erven van Frans Houttuyn” (Heirs of Frans Houttuyn) until 1783.
As preacher and as bookseller, Houttuyn was at the center of a small circle of like-minded Mennonites. Foremost was Kornelis van Tongerlo (1721-1765), another Mennonite publisher-bookseller. Although each had his own shop, they often collaborated on various large printing projects with both names appearing: “By F. Houttuyn & K. van Tongerlo.” The Kornelis van Tongerlo book business ran from 1741 to 1765. After his death, which occurred about two months before Houttuyn’s, Van Tongerlo’s widow, Geertruyd te Wierik, and his son, young Kornelis, kept the business going from 1765 to 1772. The Tongerlo shop was located in the Kalverstraat at St. Lucinsteeg under the sign of “the Emperor’s Crown” (Keizers Kroon). The Tongerlos were members of another Mennonite congregation, the Lamb and Tower. As such, Kornelis was in line to solicit business from this church, as Houttuyn did from his, and he gained profitable orders for prize books several times.
Another member of the Mennonite circle was Dr. Maarten (Martinus) Willemsz Houttuyn (1720-1798), Frans’s cousin from Hoorn, who moved to Amsterdam to establish a medical practice. Maarten, who had a special interest in biology and natural science, helped with editing, and perhaps translating, books put out by the Houttuyns. He was the son of Willem Maartensz Houttuyn, also a medical doctor, and Aagje Gerritsdr Seylemaker from Hoorn. On settling at Amsterdam Maarten joined Houttuyn’s church, the Zon. As a young doctor, between the years of 1756 and 1777, he served as the “church doctor” and received pay for care of church members, some years performing as many as 357 home visits. Thoroughly liberal in his views, Maarten combined his ordinary medical work with a passion for collecting scientific information and specimens from around the world. Maarten was a great supporter of local scientific causes, especially the Amsterdam Hortus Botanicus (botanical garden). His masterwork was a multi-volume series on biological science, Natuurlyke Historie, based on the methodology of Carolus Linnaeus, which appeared between 1761 and 1785 in thirty-six installments, consisting of over 21,500 pages. The early sections of the work were published by cousin Frans and after 1765 by the Erven van Houttuyn.
At home, Maarten built up a sizable private collection of natural curiosities, which turned his house into a personal museum of “natural rarities.” He stocked it with such treasures as a mineral cabinet of geology, a chest with sixty drawers of zoological specimens, a collection of animal and fish teeth, and various glass flasks containing specimens swimming in alcohol. His collaboration brought scientific prestige to the Houttuyn-Tongerlo enterprises.
These three intellectual, bookish Mennonites recruited a variety of other writers, translators and editors to produce books and journals for the Houttuyn and Tongerlo imprint. Houttuyn’s “Isaac Newton” shop was likely a gathering place as they discussed the latest theories and planned and produced their publications.
Frans Houttuyn’s publication list gives a broad picture of his work and interests. His output was quite large. The University of Amsterdam library has identified at least forty items in its collection with Houttuyn’s name as publisher or bookseller (and twenty or more from his successor, Erven van Houttuyn); and this is by no means the full corpus of his work, which is scattered through many libraries. He was usually the chief publisher, although in some cases he was one of several booksellers who merely stocked the book, thus being listed along with other sellers at the end of the book, “zyn te bekomen ‘t Amsterdam by F. Houttuyn” (available at Amsterdam from F. Houttuyn). The Springer-Klaassen bibliography of Mennonite publications included at least twenty Houttuyn books, indicating his major role in eighteenth-century Mennonite publishing. The title pages of Houttuyn’s most significant books used his elegantly engraved Isaac Newton device, designed and engraved by Jan Caspar Philips, a well-known Amsterdam engraver. At other times, Houttuyn used a rougher version of the Isaac Newton in a woodcut form. For ordinary printing and for tracts, he generally used plain formats with very simple ornamentation.
The Houttuyn books consisted primarily of three kinds: (1) religious books, many by Mennonite authors, but not exclusively so, and works of English piety translated into Dutch; (2) scholarly and political books of general interest; and (3) “Enlightenment” periodicals, explicitly promoting the ideals of progress and science. Some in all categories were co-published with Kornelis van Tongerlo. A notice at the end of a published work often carried advertisements of other Houttuyn books on sale at his store.
Of religious books, the most famous was the Dutch edition of Simeon Frederik Rues, Tegenwoordige staet der Doopsgezinden of Mennoniten in de Vereenigde Nederlanden, 1745, edited by Maarten Schagen (S & K, 2061). Rues was a German traveler to Holland and observer of Mennonites. This book provided one of the best pictures of eighteenth-century Dutch Mennonite life. Other major Mennonite-related books included those by David van Heyst, Verzameling van eenige uitgelezene predikaatsien, 1749 (S & K 5014); David van Heyst, Onderwys nopens de voornaamste leerstukken van der Christelijken godsdienst, 1753 (S & K 5040); Cornelis Wagenmaker, Onderwyzing aangaende het Christelyk geloof, 1759 (S & K 5071); Joannes Deknatel, Naagelaatene predikatien over verscheidene texten, 2 vols., 1760 (S & K 5075), published jointly with Kornelis de Veer, and Gerrit Blaauw, Timotheus Onderwerpen nopens het leeraar-ampt, 1764 (S & K 5090). For church use he put out two catechism books, Kort onderwys des Christelyke geloofs voor de jeugd, 6th edition, 1753 (S & K 4656), the catechism favored by the Zon Mennonites, and the Korte schets des onderwyse voor de aankomende jeugt, 6th edition, 1753 (S & K 4648). He also published a songbook, Gezangen op de christelyke feesttyden, 1762 (S & K 6263).
In addition, Houttuyn produced quite a number of English works of piety and morality, translated into Dutch. These include translations of James Hervey, Thomas Green, John Sharp and Simon Patrick (including two editions of his famous Parable of the Pilgrim, 1746 and 1752). The market for Dutch translations of English religious books was large, and Houttuyn was one of the major suppliers. He preferred the English nondogmatic “latitudinarian” writers, rather than the hard-edged Puritan writers, who also had their Dutch adherents. Johannes van den Berg has suggested that some Dutch readers, searching beyond traditional Reformed theology, were drawn to Simon Patrick and similar English devotional, moralistic writers because they appreciated the “milder” image of God and the “more optimistic” view of humanity. The quantity of books in this English category suggests that this was a profitable line for Houttuyn.
The books of general and scholarly interest covered many topics, including economics, politics and current affairs. A particularly noteworthy effort of a scholarly nature was the church history of Eusebius, in Dutch translation, Kerkelyke geschiedenissen, with copper plates (1749). Other books of this general sort are Frans de Haes’s Het verheerlykte en vernederde Portugal (1758), about the terrible earthquake of Lisbon, and Albertus Ploos van Amstel’s Verhandeling over het recht van commerce (1760), about commercial international law.
The third category of publishing-the weekly and monthly news sheets and journals-contained up-to-date scientific, literary and cultural information from the leading thinkers of the day, both Dutch and international. Publishing these journals put Houttuyn into the front ranks of the Dutch Enlightenment movement. He began with the Nederlandsche Jaarboek (Netherlands Yearbook), 1747-1765, produced in monthly installments and then bound into annual volumes. He advertised the publication as “A record of the noteworthy events which have happened in our fatherland since the beginning of the year 1747, appearing monthly, for just six stuivers per issue.” The preface of the first volume set forth the aim of giving a systematic yearly almanac record of Dutch events and conditions. Please send in information, the Jaarboek urged: “send to Bookseller Houttuyn, who is publishing this work. We will all be interested in your reports and we will publish them.”
Houttuyn kept up this journalistic kind of publishing for the rest of his life, sometimes having two or three of these journals going at one time. After the yearbooks, his later journals had more of a literary and cultural content and belonged to the genre of “spectatorial” magazines. His models were the famous English literary journals the Spectator and Tattler of Joseph Addison and Richard Steele. Several Dutch spectatorial journals preceded those of Houttuyn and Tongerlo, notably the Hollandsche Spectator (1731-1735), edited by Justus van Effen, the Algemeene Spectator (1742-1746) and De Patriot (1742-1743). Such journals gained great popularity in the Netherlands, with over one hundred appearing in the eighteenth century. The Houttuyn press aimed to provide a full line of spectatorial papers for Dutch readers papers, “like the Spectator but under another title.”
His most ambitious periodical undertaking was the Uitgezogte verhandelingen uit de nieuwste werken van de societeiten der wetenschappen in Europa en van anderere geleerde mannen (Selected Treatises out of the Newest Works of the Scientific Societies in Europe and from Other Learned Men), 1757-1765, ten annual volumes in all. It was a kind of “Reader’s Digest” of new scientific thinking. These annual volumes reported on and celebrated the exciting scientific developments of the time, whether from the academies of Berlin, London and St. Petersburg, or from Ben Franklin in America. Caught up in the spirit of enlightenment, Houttuyn and his co-workers proclaimed that they lived in great times. More had been achieved scientifically in the past hundred years than in all the sixty centuries before, when the world had slumbered in a hazy mist. Then the Light came-“yes, the great Newton.” A regular reader of the Verhandelingen would have received an extensive scientific education.
Next, working jointly, Houttuyn and Van Tongerlo launched three weekly spectatorial journals, De Zeedemeester der Kerkelijken (The Moralist of the Church People), 1750-1752, dealing with religious and church topics; De Philantrope (the Philanthropist), 1756-1762; and De Denker (the Thinker), a weekly that appeared 1763-1775 (eventually carried on by Erven van Houttuyn). Widow Tongerlo and P. Meijer in later years put out another weekly spectator called De Philosooph (The Philosopher), 1766-1769. These spectatorial journals appeared each Monday, and were for sale in Amsterdam at the Houttuyn and Tongerlo stores, as well as at appointed booksellers in Dordrecht, Rotterdam, Delft, the Hague, Leiden, Haarlem, Leeuwarden, Groningen and other cities. During the later years Frans Houttuyn also had another massive publishing project underway, the thirty-six part Natuurlyke Historie of Martinus Houttuyn, with part one appearing in 1760.
What was the impact of these publishing ventures? It would be hard to judge the size of readership of the Houttuyn and Tongerlo journals, or even the number of pieces produced. How many persons read each issue of the journals and what discussion ensued? The publishers would have had reason to expect that educated Mennonites would support their journals; and in scientific publishing, Houttuyn had found a unique niche at Amsterdam. From occasional hints in the journals, it appears as if the publishers gained only meager financial profits. Still, the editor of De Denker speculated (or fantasized’) that the intellectual impact was great, that “a few thousand persons were reading De Denker over breakfast every Monday morning.”
THE MENNONITE ENLIGHTENMENT
According to Peter Gay’s history of the European Enlightenment, the “spirit of the age” in the eighteenth century was “enlightenment” (Verlichting) in all areas of life. The great modern pursuits were science, reason, freedom and humanitarianism. Frans Houttuyn joined this movement of enlightenment. His contribution was to publish the best thinking of the modern philosophers and scientists in books and journals. The Dutch Republic, moreover, enjoyed considerable freedom of the press, which allowed Houttuyn and his allies to carry on their work with little hindrance. At Hoorn the Houttuyn family was the “axis” or hub of a Mennonite Enlightenment, and at Amsterdam, Frans Houttuyn and his intellectual Mennonite friends played a similar role.
The historians Peter Gay and Jonathan Israel report that the Dutch had a particular “passion for Newtonianism,” and according to Israel, even an “Anglomania” (love of English ideas). This embrace of Newtonianism is certainly an apt description of Houttuyn. Gay and Israel argued further that the Enlightenment was mainly secular and irreligious, marking “the rise of modern paganism.” This interpretation, however, is problematic when applied to the Netherlands, and even to the Enlightenment as a whole. Interpreting the eighteenth century as a time of inevitable secularism and unbelief for the Dutch is too extreme a judgment. Although the Dutch, no doubt, had liberal Spinozian, Socinian and Unitarian adherents, and perhaps occasional atheists, the churches adjusted to the new age. Many Christians found ways to connect to the Enlightenment, by picking and choosing liberal themes applicable to religion. Thus, Dutch church historians like Johannes van den Berg refer to a Dutch “Protestant Enlightenment” or “Christian Enlightenment,” which sought to harmonize tenets of religion with scientific thinking.
As a Mennonite preacher and a practical businessman, Frans Houttuyn represents a “Mennonite Enlightenment,” clearly evincing a compatibility between faith and the best of the scientific and rationalistic theories. He did not advocate radical skepticism but an accommodation of the new and the old. He lost patience with traditional creedal orthodoxy alone. His religion engaged the world and was applicable to current situations. Because so little record remains of the content of his preaching, for clues about Houttuyn’s moral, religious and social views, we need to look at his book and journal publishing.
The Houttuyn-Tongerlo spectatorial journals were a sign of the times. Every country of Europe had such journals. Educated readers, according to Gay, went to the periodicals for a message of “reason, humanity, and industry,” and, for the religious-minded, such new views could be applied to Christianity to make it more rational and “respectable.” The journals aimed to bring forward the best of enlightened writing. As their publication titles indicated, the thrust of this printing was to provide scientific, philosophical and moral topics to progressive people who were “scientific,” “thinking,” “philanthropic,” “moral” and “philosophical,” regardless of creed and religion. Although Houttuyn and Van Tongerlo carried the financial and sales burden, they had to rely on intellectual friends, mostly fellow Mennonites, to serve as the “spectators” of church and society, and to be the writers, editors and translators. The names of these writers (Houttuyn’s liefhebbers, or volunteer workers), are known only in part, since they worked rather anonymously, without byline or perhaps with just an initial.
Jan Hartog, a nineteenth-century Mennonite pastor, wrote a history of the “spectatorial journals” and argued that Mennonites played a disproportionately large role in the Dutch Enlightenment, with their special avenue of expression being spectatorial writing and publishing. Consider, he said, the large number of Mennonites involved with spectator journals. He tried to identify the authors and editors who did the writing for such journals as the Denker, the Philanthrope and the Philosophe (the Houttuyn-Tongerlo publications), and he found that many were Mennonites or from other small Dutch dissenting churches, like the Remonstrants and Lutherans. “Mennonites,” he concluded, “had a special affection for the Spectators.” Among the writers Hartog identified were the following: Frans de Haes, Cornelis van Engelen and Petrus Loosjes, all preachers of Mennonite churches; Adriaan Verwer; Nicolas Bondt; and, from other minority groups, people like A. A. van der Meersch (professor at the Remonstrant seminary) and Philippus Ludovicus Statius Muller (a radical Lutheran). Some co-workers of Houttuyn contributed to only a few issues, or a volume. Maarten Schagen, Maarten Nieuwenhuyzen and Jan Wagenaar, also Mennonite writers, worked on spectator journals for other publishers. At Haarlem the Mennonite brothers Cornelius Loosjes and Petrus Loosjes edited their own spectator journal, Vaderlandsche Letteroefeningen. One key name missing from Hartog’s list is Maarten Houttuyn, Frans’s cousin, who worked so long and hard in the editorial duties of Houttuyn journals.
Mennonites saw the spectator journals as an avenue of free expression and liberation for dissenters, who otherwise might chafe under the predominant Reformed culture. Hartog sympathized with the Mennonite “dissenters” and their voice for freedom as expressed in the spectators: “Without doubt, we sit in the midst of the Dissenters.” More recent scholars have supported Hartog’s position that there is a discernible Mennonite connection to the liberal spectator journals and to the Dutch Enlightenment as a whole. Christine van Boheemen-Saaf, for example, has argued that Mennonites and other dissenters resonated greatly with the Enlightenment concern for “practical Christianity, moral philosophy rather than dogmatic adherence to system, as well as a firm belief in humanity’s inherent fitness for correction and improvement by education.”
Hartog also argued that the spectator journals accurately reflected eighteenth-century Dutch beliefs and actions. To some extent, this same approach can be applied to Houttuyn to gain a fuller personal picture of the publisher himself. The Houttuyn-Tongerlo news and cultural journals reveal information about the publishers’ own personal values. “We do not agree with everything we print,” they stated, but the overall message, published year after year for nearly twenty years, did add up. Although not every article would have been equally to Houttuyn’s liking, he hardly would have carried on this arduous publishing program unless he felt a personal affinity to the larger message contained there. It was a cause and a mission that certainly mattered to him. What Frans Houttuyn preached in his Sunday sermons has disappeared into the air, but many of his views survive because they were put into print.
This is not the place to give a detailed summary of the contents of the various journals. However, a few of the themes in the spectators stand out as particularly relevant for understanding the character of Frans Houttuyn. The Uitgezogte Verhandelingen carried the scientific articles on Newton and other scientists, dear to his heart. Zeedemeester der Kerkelijken steadily advocated a moral Christianity without bigotry. The opening issue posed this question: “Why, with such a great number of preachers in the Dutch churches, do we today find such a small amount of true godliness'” Was it too many preachers, or not enough true piety? Reasonable Christians were to seek toleration and concord among all Protestants, so that all could have brotherly harmony: “Fellowship between Calvin and Luther, Menno Simons and Arminius; no controversy among Cocceius, Voetius, or Lampe.” In these enlightened times, “All shall be brothers.” In the final issue of the paper, the writer declared that the goal had always been “to plant and nourish toleration in the minds of the people.”
Freedom was precious in the Dutch context. Freedom of expression and of the press, without any impediment, was the recurring message of the Houttuyn-Tongerlo Denker. This was their sharpest and most controversial publication. “Freedom is the mother of every kind of knowledge,” said the Denker. From issue to issue, the publication broadened the scope of freedom to encompass total freedom of the press, religious freedom, freedom of ideas and political freedom-all interrelated and essential for human freedom and progress. Denker warned of dangers in other lands, such as the notorious Calas case in France and in England John Wilkes and the North Britain case. “We want no Inquisition here,” opined the journal’s editors. In the Dutch Republic of Reason, as envisioned by the Denker, there was a welcome for “Arminians, Socinians, Deists, Atheists, Mennonites, people of no religion at all, and free thinkers.” This was a controversial vision, even dangerous and anarchistic, to orthodox pillars of the predominant Reformed Church and also, certainly, to some traditional Mennonites. Johannes Barueth, a defender of Reformed orthodoxy, published a tract, “Literary Letters in Defense of the Dogma of the Ministers of the Reformed Church against the Secret Attacks in the Essays of the Denker.” Critics of the Denker and the Zeedemester looked rather longingly back to the good old days of strong press censorship.
The spectator journals were the voice of a nondoctrinaire Mennonite Christianity (a verlichte Christendom) in tune with the Enlightenment. Such a religion promoted moralism and looked to Jesus as the Great Teacher and Example. R. B. Evenhuis, a Reformed scholar, writing the history of the eighteenth-century Amsterdam churches, stated that “the spirit of the Enlightenment” came into the Mennonites more than into any other church of the day. Did he mean this as a compliment or a criticism? The Dutch Mennonite historian Nanne van der Zijpp was in agreement that Mennonites were very active in the liberal movements of the enlightened “century of toleration.” However, at the same time, Van der Zijpp found “two currents” or “two wings” of Mennonites, the liberal and conservative, even among the so-called conservative Zonists. A party of orthodox Mennonites, suspicious of the new direction, existed and spoke out strongly in the Dutch church, warning of the dangers of leniency and the loss of separation from the world. These were the regzinnige and ware (the right-thinking, orthodox and true) Mennonites. Many historians of the period have emphasized and implicitly approved the liberal Mennonitism, which Frans Houttuyn helped to lead, even though it was but one part of the Mennonite story. There was another road that preserved tradition and separation. Whether following the liberal road of Mennonitism (as reflected in Houttuyn’s world) was the best course has been a matter of debate ever since.
Because Houttuyn and Tongerlo generally worked behind the scenes, buying and selling books, rather than in the front line of writing, they may seem incidental to the great intellectual movements of the day. But historians would do well to give more attention to the printers, publishers and booksellers. They were the great facilitators of books. On a few occasions, they received some deserved public recognition in their own day. In the last issue of the Philantrope (1762), for example, a writer (called the Young Philanthrope) praised the booksellers Houttuyn and Van Tongerlo for their printing and publishing work, which followed in the pioneering footsteps of Steele and Van Effen, earlier spectators, thus publishing much important knowledge for the progress of mankind. The writer without a publisher has no voice, said the Young Philanthrope, and “no fruit from his labor.”
Frans Houttuyn received another tribute in 1765, when his cousin Maarten Houttuyn told about their collaborative work. Maarten wrote a “Final Word” in the last issue of Uitgezogte Verhandelingen, soon after Frans’s death. The Uitgezogte Verhandelingen had been one of Frans Houttuyn’s great accomplishments, and Maarten wanted the world to appreciate the arduous effort. Their original goal had been to publish in Dutch the best of scientific papers in natural science and medicine from around the world. Choosing the best out of all the published articles had been far more time consuming than first imagined. Maarten revealed that he himself had been almost single-handedly editing the paper for several years, and the work had been very hard, frustrating and financially unprofitable. Now and then, a well-disposed colleague would write an original article or do some translations, “but this was seldom done.” So, complained the doctor, the shoulders of the two Houttuyns carried nearly the entire burden of writing and publishing. (Of course, it should be noted, that in spite of Maarten’s complaints, Frans was doing him a great favor by publishing his massive Natural History series, not likely a very profitable project.) After they began publication, other journals came into the market and gave them competition, “fishing in the same waters for business.” If they had followed strict good business sense, claimed Maarten, rather than intellectual dreams, they would have closed down the Verhandelingen long ago; but Frans would not stop until they had produced at least ten volumes. Frans died on July 23, 1765, and the desired ten volumes were finally a reality. Having praised the good publisher, Maarten resigned and declared the journal at an end. In closing, he signed: “M. Houttuyn, Med. Doctor of Amsterdam, November 15, 1765.”
PROGRESS BY PRINTING
The Houttuyn business went on, as Erven van Frans Houttuyn (Heirs of Frans Houttuyn), until 1783, but its history is very vague. Who were these “Heirs”? None of his children, all young at the time of his death, were in a position to carry on the business. None lived in Amsterdam, having been sent to Hoorn to live with relatives. Although the Erven van Frans Houttuyn conducted business regularly in Amsterdam and sold books to the Zonist church, the names of its agents were never stated. There is one clue. The date of 1783, when the business ended, corresponds with the death of Frans’s younger brother, Adriaan Houttuyn, at Hoorn.
The book shop of Houttuyn with its good supply of books and, no doubt, lively conversation and debate among authors, editors and buyers, might well have served as the unofficial headquarters of enlightened Amsterdam Mennonitism. These Mennonites were no longer strongly bound by the traditional Anabaptist ideal of separation from the world. The teaching of “being in the world but not of the world” was obsolete for them. Houttuyn and friends blended and integrated what they thought was the best of religion and Dutch culture. In 1748, like other respectable Dutch citizens, they celebrated the centennial of the Peace of Westphalia (Peace of Mnster), which brought independence, freedom and religious tolerance to the Dutch Republic, by publishing a long celebratory essay in the Nederlandsche Jaarboek. Houttuyn belonged to the overlapping worlds of Menno, Newton and Dutch republicanism.
A study of Houttuyn’s life and work shifts the view of church history away from preachers and theologians. More a publisher than preacher, his primary tool was the printing press. This is an invitation for additional research on the work of Mennonite printers, publishers and booksellers-often rendered invisible and judged inconsequential. Houttuyn’s Nederlandsche Jaarboek of 1749 referred to the need to inspire both book writing and book reading (the love of writing and the love of reading), and these could only be achieved for society by the hand of the printer and publisher. The French philosopher Marquis de Condorcet, in fact, would shortly declare the printing press to be one of the greatest steps in the “progress of the human mind.” Frans Houttuyn was of the same opinion, and for this reason he devoted his life to publishing and disseminating books.
[*]Keith L. Sprunger is Professor Emeritus of History at Bethel College, North Newton, Kansas.
1. The device was designed and engraved by Jan Caspar Philips. See Anna E. C. Simoni, “Newton in the Timber Yard: The Device of Frans Houttuyn, Amsterdam,” British Library Journal, 1 (1975), 84-89.
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. ME 2: 822. The family history of the Houttuyns is complex, and Frans’s place in it has often been confused. So, it is worth going into some detail to help untangle the confusion. The founders of the family were Pieter Cornelisz Houttuyn (d. 1678) and Lysabeth Maartensdr. They were Frans’s great grandparents. The next generation was Cornelis (father of pastor Adraiaan Cornelisz); Maarten (father of Pieter Maartensz and Dr. Willem Maartensz); Adriaan (Frans’s grandfather, father of Pieter Adriaansz); and Jan. Adriaan had two sons, Pieter Adriaansz and Fop Adriaansz. For genealogical information on the family, see Luuc Kooijmans, Onder Regenten: De elite in een Hollandse stad, Hoorn 1700-1780 (De Bataafsche Leeuw, 1985), 196, 266; C. Koeman, “Nakomelingen van Cornelis Seylemaker,” Gens Nostra, 25 (1970), 164-68; and the Houttuyn genealogical files (containing correspondence about the family) at the Archiefdienst Westfriese Gemeenten at Hoorn. There is also information about various members of the extended Houttuyn family in A. J. van der Aa, Biographisch woordenboek der Nederlanden (Haarlem: 1852-78), vol. 10, and Biographisch woordenboek van protestantsche godgeleerden in Nederland (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1919-56), vol. 4, hereafter BWPGN.
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. For Jacob and Adriaan Houttuyn, Doopsgezinde membership book, no. 135, opening page; for Adriaan Cornelisz Houttuyn, BWPGN, 4: 337-38, and Biografisch lexicon voor de geschiedenis van het Nederlandse Protestantisme (Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1978-88), 3:190. Pastor Adriaan Cornelisz Houttuyn was one of the preachers of the Waterlander church and then of the United Mennonite church.
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. Dr. Maarten Pietersz Houttuyn (c. 1731-1787) was a medical doctor at Hoorn and a graduate of Leiden University. On connections between the Houttuyns and Wolff and Deken, see P.J. Buijnsters, Wolff en Deken: Een Biografie (1984), 112; and P. J. Buijnsters, Briefwisseling van Betje Wolff en Aagje Deken, 2 vols. (Utrecht: HES, 1987), 2: 825-26. On the Mennonite connections to Wolff and Deken, see S. Groenveld, J. P. Jacobszoon and S. L. Verheus, Wederdopers Menisten Doopsgezinden in Nederland 1530-1980, 2nd ed. (Zutphen: De Walburg Pers, 1981), 184-85.
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. Johannes van den Berg, Religious Currents and Cross-Currents: Essays on Early Modern Protestantism and the Protestant Enlightenment, ed. Jan de Bruijn, Pieter Holtrop and Ernestine van der Wall (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 220.
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. Kooijmans, Onder Regenten, 196. Cornelius Ris, Ontwerp ter proeve ter opregtinge eener vaterlandsche maatschappij van reedery (Amsterdam: Erven van F. Houttuyn and Hoorn: F. Tjallingius, 1777).
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. For specific biographical information about Frans Houttuyn, there is an entry, although not very satisfactory, in the Nieuw Nederlandsch biografisch woordenboek (1911-37), 2: 612.
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. The children of Frans and Geertruyd were Elizabeth (1748-1774), Pieter (born 1749, died in infancy), Alida (born 1750, died in infancy), Cornelia (1753-1837), Cornelis (born 1756, died the same year), and another son named Pieter (1758-1807). The Frans Houttuyn family is reconstructed from the birth (baptism), marriage and burial records (DTB), nos. 297, 300 of the Gemeente Archief Amsterdam; also the Houttuyn file and the Doopsgezinde church records, nos. 135 and 136 at Hoorn; and Kooijmans, Onder Regenten, 266. The various birth records showed six children from the first marriage, noted above, four of whom lived to maturity; but based on burial records, there was at least one additional burial of an unnamed child. Eva Houttuyn, from the second marriage, lived 1760-1830.
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. List of preachers of the Old Frisian Church (membership book of the Noah’s Ark), P. A. 877, no. 245, pp. 104-05, G. A. Amsterdam. The record of Frans says: chosen January 25, 1750, installed March 8, 1750, and died July 23, 1765.
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. The legal document, dated Jan. 21, 1752, was signed by five members of the church and directed against Houttuyn; it was unsuccessful in stopping the merger.-P.A. 877, no. 46, also in notary archive 13046, doc.10.
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. Kort Onderwys (Springer and Klaassen no. 4656); Houttuyn did reprintings of the book in 1753 (1335 copies) and 1755; Acta Kerkeraad, no. 6, p. 234 and Kasboek, no. 115, p. 131r (for payment).
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. Although the date of his death is known, July 23, 1765, based on entries in the Zonist church records and other reports, there is no record of his burial in Amsterdam. He likely was buried in his hometown of Hoorn (Houttuyn file, letter of P. A. Boon, Maart 10, 1981, about burial payment at Hoorn, on July 27, 1765, at Archiefdienst Westfriese).
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. J. A. Gruys and C. De Wolfe, Thesaurus 1473-1800: Nederlandse boekdrukkers en boekverkopers (Nieuwkoop: De Graaf Publishers, 1989), 192. He did not operate his own printing presses, but arranged for others to do the printing of the books.
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. Gruys and De Wolfe, Thesaurus, 176. The elder Tongerlo died in April of 1765 (buried April 9, 1765). The younger Tongerlo died in March of 1771 (buried March 5, 1771).-DTB, no. 1050, p. 14r (1765) and 1050, p. 51v (1771). Gertrude te Wierik (Tongerlo) outlived them all but gave up the business, moved to Utrecht in 1774 and remarried to Ch. Van Bosch (Lam en Toren membership list, 1774, P. A. 1120, no. 220, kladlijst).
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. Some biographical facts about Kornelis van Tongerlo and family are these: Born in 1721, Kornelis was the son of Kornelis van Tongerlo, makelaar (broker or dealer), and Johanna Vermeersch. He married Geertruyd te Wierik from Amelo, August 24, 1741. They had at least three children: Kornelis, born 1745, died 1747; Anne, born 1746, died 1749; and another Kornelis, born 1748, also a bookseller, who died 1771. On the Tongerlos, see Lam and Toren membership book, P. A. 1120, no. 224; DTB, 725, p. 334; DTB, no. 1050, p. 14r; also the will of Kornelis (1721-1765), dated Nov. 27, 1764, in Notary Archive, Isaac Pool, no. 12709, doc. 108 (all at the G. A. Amsterdam).
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. Maarten (Martinus) Houttuyn and Frans Houttuyn were second cousins; their grandfathers Maarten Pietersz Houttuyn and Adriaan Pietersz Houttuyn were brothers. Dr. Maarten, born in 1720, son of Dr. Willem Maartensz Houttuyn, studied medicine at Leiden University, and married Hester Hoorn in 1750. They moved to Amsterdam about this same time. They had one son, Willem, who died in the colonies at Paramaribo, Surinam, in 1771. Maarten and Hester were baptized at the Zonist church on August 9, 1752, with Cousin Frans as one of their witnesses. On Dr. Maarten and Hester, see the Zonist records, P. A. 877, Acta Kerkeraad, no. 6, p. 226 and register of members, no. 37.
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. Dr. Houttuyn’s pay from the church for years between 1756 and 1777 is found in the financial record books of the Zon church, P. A. 877, nos. 115 and 116. The year 1774 was his heaviest year, when he billed the church for 357 visits and 4 consultations.
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. Maarten died in 1798. His collection was itemized in the Boedel (estate inventory) of Martinus Houttuyn and Hester Hoorn, signed Feb. 27, 1790, P. A. 5072, no. 980 (1790, no. 1841).
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. Nelson P. Springer and A. J. Klassen, Mennonite Bibliography 1631-1961, 2 vols. (Scottdale, Pa. and Kitchener, Ont.: Herald Press, 1977). This very extensive Mennonite bibliography assigns a number to each book; books in this article are given with their Springer and Klassen (S & K) number, if one exists.
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. For examples of these advertisements and book lists, see Joannes Sharp, Alle de predikaatsien (Amsterdam: Houttuyn, 1752-53), vol. 1, By den Drukker, and vol. 2, By de Boekverkooper; also various volumes of the Uitgezogte Verhandelingen.
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. Johannes van den Berg, “Eighteenth Century Dutch Translations of the Works of Some British Latitudinarian and Enlightened Theologians,” Nederlands Archief voor Kerkgeschiedenis 59 (1978-79), 198-200; Van den Berg, Religious Currents, chap. 9 on Simon Patrick, 133-147.
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. The latter two, De Haes and Van Amstel, are found at the British Library in London. Although by far the largest concentration of Houttuyn books is at the University of Amsterdam library, many of his works, including some unique ones, are found in various libraries, including Mennonite libraries in the United States, at Eastern Mennonite University, Bethel College and Goshen College.
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. On Newtonianism and English influence in Holland, see Gay, The Enlightenment, 2: 136; Jonathan I. Israel, The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), 1042-44, 1047; and Jonathan I. Israel, Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 (Oxford: University Press, 2001), 515-27. Israel, in addition to Newton, places great emphasis on the role of Spinoza and Spinozism in Dutch thought.
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. The Rise of Modern Paganism is the title of volume 1 of Gay’s history. Israel, in a similar vein, interprets the Dutch and European-wide Enlightenment as having a large radical component of atheism, naturalism and irreligion.
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. Dorinda Outram, The Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), Chapter 3, which discusses the problems with the “modern paganism” thesis. See also Jonathan Sheehan, “Enlightenment, Religion, and the Enigma of Secularization: a Review Essay,” American Historical Review, 108 (Oct. 2003), 1061-1080. Sheehan describes the historiographical shift toward a higher appreciation (instead of demotion) of religion in the Enlightenment.
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. Van den Berg, Religious Currents, 255. For a look at Reformed publishers and their relationship to the Enlightenment, see Fred van Lieburg, “The Dutch Book Trade, Christian Enlightenment and the National Bibliography: The Catalogues of Johannes van Abkoude (1703-60) and Reinier Arrenberg (1733-1812),” Quaerendo 31 (Winter 2001), 3-16.
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. On the Dutch Mennonite Enlightenment in the Netherlands, see Michael Driedger, “An Article Missing from the Mennonite Encyclopedia: ‘The Enlightenment in the Netherlands,'” in C. Arnold Snyder, ed., Commoners and Community: Essays in Honour of Werner O. Packull (Kitchener, Ont.: Pandora Press, 2002), 101-20.
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. Bruijnsters, Spectatoriale geschriften, 28; Christine van Boheemen-Saaf, “Literature and Ideology in the Dutch Republic,” in Margaret C. Jacobs and Wijnand W. Mijnhardt, The Dutch Republic in the Eighteenth Century (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992), 245-46; Verbeek, “Een doopsgezind tijdschrift,” 137-39; R. B. Evenhuis, Ook Dat Was Amsterdam, 5 vols. (Baarn: Uitgeverij ten Have B. V, 1965-78), 4: 266. Evenhuis stated, no doubt, with a bit of exaggeration, “most of the spectators were Doopsgezind.”
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. See De Denker, no. 135 (July 29, 1765), 237-239. Houttuyn and Tongerlo in 1763 brought out a Dutch version of John Wilkes’s North Britain no. 45 and the English King’s response to it, Aanspraak van Zijne Groot Britannische Majesteit, 1763 (Knuttel no. 18865). This case is considered of high significance in British legal and constitutional history, and it is interesting indeed that Houttuyn and Tongerlo picked up on its significance so swiftly.
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. N. van der Zijpp, Geschiedenis der Doopsgezinden in Nederland (Amsterdam: Doopsgezinde Historische Kring, 1980), Chapter 11, “Tolerantie en Teruggang,” 162, 165-171; see also S. Zijlstra, “Jacobus Rijsdijk en de strijd om de belijdenissen,” Doopsgezinde Bijdragen, n. r. 26 (2000), 67-90.
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. W. H. Kuipers called accommodation to the world the Doopsgezinde “integration,” in Groenveld, Jacobszoon and Verheus, Wederdopers, Menisten, Doopsgezinden in Nederland, Chapter 12.
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. Nederlandsche Jaarboek, vol. 3 (1750), Voorbericht.
The Mennonite Quarterly Review
Frans Houttuyn, Amsterdam Bookseller
MQR 78 (April 2004)