Daily Archives: November 8, 2007

Item of the Day: Observations upon the United Provinces of the Netherlands (1673)

Full Title: Observations upon the United Provinces of the Netherlands. By Sir William Temple . . . Second Edition Corrected and Augmented. London: Printed by A. Maxwell for sa. Gellibrand at the Golden Ball in St. Paul’s Church-yard, 1673.



Having lately seen the state of the United Provinces, after a prodigious growth in Riches, Beauty, extent of Commerce, and number of Inhabitants, arrived at length to such a heigth [sic] by the strength of their Navies, their fortified Towns and Standing-Forces, with a constant Revenue proportion’d to the support of all this Greatness), as made them the Envy of some, the Fear of others, and the Wonder of all their Neighbors.

We have this summer past, beheld the same state, in the midst of great appearing Safety, Order, Strength, and Vigor, Almost ruin’d and broken to pieces in some few days and by very few blows; And reduced in a manner to its first Principles of Weakness and Distress; Exposed, opprest [sic] , and very near at mercy. Their Inland-Provinces swallowed up by in Invasion, almost as sudden and unresisted, as the Inundations to which the others are subject. And the remainders of their State rather kept alive by neglect or disconcert of its Enemies, than by any Strength of Naturee, or endeavours at its own recovery.

Now because such a Greatness, and such a Fall of this State, seem Revolutions unparallel’d in any story, and hardly conceived even by those who have lately seen them; I thought it might be worth an idle man’s time, to give some account of the Rise and Progress of this Commonwealth, The Causes of their Greatness, And the Steps towards their Fall: Which were all made by motions perhaps little taken notice of by common eyes, and almost undiscernable to any man that was not placed to the best advantage, and Something concerned, as well as enclin’d to observe them.

The usual Duty of Employments abroad, imposed not only by Custom, but by Orders of State, made it fit for me to prepare some formal Account of this Countrey [sic] and Government, after Two years Ambassy [sic], in the midst of grest Conjunctures and Negotiations among them. And such a Revolution as has since hppen’d there, though it may have made these Discourses little important to His Majesty, or His Council; Yet it will not  have render’d them less agreeable to common eyes, who, like men that live near the Sea, will run out upon the Cliffs to gaze at it in a Storm, though they would not look out of their Windows to see it in a Calm.

Besides, at a time when the Actions of this Scene take up so generally the eyes and discourses of their Neighbours; And the Maps of their Countrey [sic] grow so much in request: I thought a Map of their State and Goverment would not be unwelcome to the World, since it is full as necessary as the others, To understand the late Revolutions and Changes among them. And as no man’s Story can be well written till he is dead; so the account of this State could not be well given till its fall, which may justly be dated from the Events of last Summer (whatever fortunes may further attend them), Since therein we have seen the sudden and violent dissolution of that more Popular Government, which had continued and made so much noise for above Twenty years in the World, without the exeercise or influence of the Authority of the Princes of Orange, A part so essential in the first Constitutions of their State. Nor can I wholly lose my pains in this Adventure, when I shall gain the ease of answering this way at once; those many Questions I have lately been used to upon this occasion: Which made me first observe and wonder, how ignorant we were generaly in the Affairs and Constitutions of a Countrey so much in our eye, the common road of our travels, as well as subject of our talk; and which we have been of late not only curious, but concerned to know.

I am sensible how ill a Trade it is to write, where much is ventur’d, and little can be gain’d; since whoever does it ill, is sure of contempt, and the justliest that can be, when no man provokes him to discover his own follies, or to trouble the world. If he writes well, he raises the envy of those Wits that are possest [sic] of the Vogue, and are jealous of their Preferment there, as if it were in Love, or in State; And have found, that the nearest way to their own Reputation, lyes [sic] right, or wrong, by the derision of other men. But however, I am not in pain: for ’tis the affectation of Praise, that makes the fear of Reproach; And I write without other design than of entertaining very idle men, and among them my self. For I must confess, that being wholly useless to the Publique, And unaquainted with the cares of encreasing Riches (whichbusie [sic]the World): Being grown cold to the pleasures of younger or livelier men; And having ended the Entertainments of Building and Planting (which use to succeed them); Finding little taste in common Conversation; And trouble in much Reading, from the care of my eyes (since an illness contracted by many unnecessary filigences in my Employment abroad): There can hardly be found an idler man than I; Nor consequently one more excusable for giving way to such amusements as this: Having nothing to do, but to enjoy the ease of a private Life and Fortune; which as I know no man envies, so (I thank God) no man can reproach.

I am not ignorant, that the vein of Reading never run lower than in this Age; and seldom goes further than the design of raising a Stock to furnish some Calling or Conversation. The desire of Knowledge being either laught out of doors by the Wit that pleases the Age; or beaten out by Interest, that so much possesses it: And the amusement of Books giving way to the liberties of refinements of Pleasure, that were formerly less known, or less avowed than now. Yet some there will always be found in the world, who ask no more at their idle hours, than to forget themselves. And whether that be brought about by Drink or Play, by Love or Business, or by some diversions as idle as this, ‘Tis all a case. . . .



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Filed under 1670'S, Europe, History, Netherlands, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Travel