Poems to remember

Mourning in the KNIR-collection

When you come to die, how many people do you think will write a poem to remember you? Eighteenth-century poets Juliana Cornelia de Lannoy (1738-1782) and Lukas Schermer (1688-1711) had a respective fourteen and thirty funerary poems written for them. Then again, this genre was extremely popular at the time, so the numbers of poems that were written for De Lannoy and Schermer were not that remarkable. The poets themselves however were. Juliana Cornelia de Lannoy was a very progressive woman, who was well ahead of her time by deeming the idea that women would not be able to write as well as men absolute nonsense. Lukas Schermer in his turn was generally considered a great literary talent, but died at merely twenty-two years of age, even before any of his work was published. How are these outstanding facts reflected in the funerary poems written for them?

Let’s start with the classics
Writing funerary poetry was far from new in early modern times. On the contrary: it was based on a long tradition, dating back as far as the classics. Vergil’s fifth Ecloga, in which herdsmen Menalcas and Mopsus lament the death of their fellow Daphnis, is probably one of the best-known examples. Having these classical roots, funerary poetry was bound to be rediscovered in the Renaissance. It flourished in the Dutch Golden Age and to a not much lesser extent in the eighteenth century. Any notable person to die could rest assured that several funerary poems (generally called lijkdichten in Dutch) would be written in his or her honour, especially if he or she had been active in the literary field. In that case it was likely there would be one or more poets among their acquaintances who would feel called upon to write a commemorating piece. 
For a literary celebrity like Constantijn Huygens even a separate volume of funerary poetry was published. Still, such free-standing prints were quite extraordinary. It was much more common to include a series of funerary poems in a final section within the collected or posthumous works of the poet concerned, as has been the case with Schermer and De Lannoy. The poems that were written after they died are included in Lukas Schermers poëzy (first published in 1712, the extended edition in the KNIR-library dates from 1743) and in De Lannoy’s Nagelaten dichtwerken (‘Posthumous poetry’, published in 1783).
The two volumes of poetry. The book at the bottom is Nagelaten dichtwerken and has recently been restored, the book on top is Lukas Schermers poëzy and has been rebound in Dutch eighteenth-century floral endpapers.
To praise, mourn and sooth
The rules for writing funerary poetry were derived from classical models and were in principle rather strict with respect to both style and content. A number of literary commonplaces (topoi) were inherent to the genre, although in practice personal involvement has proven to allow some divergence, so that individual feelings could be expressed more adequately. A funerary poem had to contain at least three elements, by their Latin names called laus, luctus and consolatio: the deceased should be praised and mourned for and the poem itself was expected to give a certain comfort. During the eighteenth century the ratio of these components was subject to some change. Early eighteenth-century poems were primarily aimed at soothing, whereas by the end of the eighteenth century, the actual lamentation (luctus, that is) became most prominent and more or less unrestrained.

Tragic Lukas
It should not come as a surprise that many of the titles of the thirty funerary poems mention the immaturity of Lukas Schermer’s death, in the Latin poems referred to by immaturus and in the Dutch poems by ontydig. One of these thirty poems stands out in particular. Unlike the other poems that are not directed at any person in particular, one J.N. Turcq wrote a poem for Schermer’s parents, Adriaan Schermer and Hester van der Heyden. That fact by itself points out the unnaturalness of Schermer’s early death: the parents are left behind instead of the children. How does Turcq carry out his difficult job, using poetry to hearten two parents who have just lost their child?
The frontispiece of Lukas Schermers poëzy
The answer is quite simple. Of twelve stanzas, only one praises Schermer (laus) and four are dedicated to mourning (luctus), while no less than seven stanzas attempt to offer comfort (consolatio). Turcq encourages Schermer’s parents to resign to God’s will. Evidently, Lukas has been spared a lot of suffering, for otherwise God would have saved him from his death, like he did with Isaac when his father Abraham was about to offer him. One could argue that Schermer’s early death has cast a shadow on his work, both in the sense that he has not had the opportunity to fully develop himself as an author and in the sense that he is mostly remembered for his death rather than his work, a tendency starting already in these funerary poems. Soothing prevails over praising.
A poem for Schermer's parents
Manly Juliana
De Lannoy was far from the only eighteenth-century woman to partake in literary writing, but she was one of the few to do it in such a self-evident, confident way. She became the full-grown author she considered herself to be. Nowadays, a female author would probably not be very pleased to hear that her work is ‘manly’, but when De Lannoy’s work was received that way it was considered a great compliment. This is where a major paradox unfolds itself. The eighteenth-century protofeminist was successful when she achieved a masculine status. To a certain extent De Lannoy was ‘one of the guys’: thirteen out of the fourteen funerary poems are written by the male members of the art society ‘Kunstliefde spaart geen vlijt’ (‘Love of art does not spare diligence’) and none of them pay much attention to the fact that the dedicatee is a female poet.
The title page of Nagelaten dichtwerken
There is one exception to this rule. The first poem, written by one Johan van Hoogstraten and accompanied by the engraving of an obelisk, mentions that De Lannoy was admired by her sex (‘Bewonderd van haar sexe’), that is to say: admired by other women. Note that this poem is a true eye-catcher and that it might have been intended to set the tone for De Lannoy’s legacy, having been a ‘power woman’ avant la lettre. The other poets prove this idea more of an ideal than a reality, by seemingly losing sight of the fact that their late poetic friend was a woman. They do pay a lot of attention to lamenting the loss of a dear friend, which fits in with the historical shift described above: the poems for De Lannoy involve much more luctus than those for Schermer, which were written some seventy years earlier. The funerary poems that were written for Schermer and De Lannoy were in that way traditional, unlike the exceptional poets themselves. Lilian Nijhuis
An obelisk (grafnaald) for De Lannoy
Juliana Cornelia de Lannoy [Nagelaten dichtwerken van Juliana Cornelia baronnesse de Lannoy] Nagelaten dichtwerken van jongvrouwe Juliana Cornelia baronnesse de Lannoy. (imp. Te Leyden. Bij A. en J. Honkoop. MDCCLXXXIII.).
8°, [14] – 160 – [7] p.

Rome, Library Koninklijk Nederlands Instituut Rome, L163-2

Lukas Schermer [Lukas Schermers poëzy] Lukas Schermers poëzy. Derde druk merkelyk vermeerdert en met Konstplaten versiert. (imp. Te Rotterdam, By Jakobus Losel, MDCCXLIII.).
8°, [24] – 557 – [7] p.

Rome, Library Koninklijk Nederlands Instituut Rome, MR64

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