Starting in April 2016, this research project will study the early correspondence of G. J. P. J. Bolland, a Dutch autodidact student of Old Germanic languages who would later become one of the country’s leading philosophers. Bolland’s correspondence as well as his annotated books in the Leiden University library shed a unique light on the development of the scholarly study of Old English at the end of the nineteenth century. The project is sponsored by Leiden University Fund (LUF) / Bolland Fonds.
“My former Germanicist me”: G. J. P. J. Bolland as an amateur Old Germanicist
“Whether you will ever return as the prodigal son to the table of Father Grimm? That is something I no longer dare hope for”, wrote P. J. Cosijn (1840-1899), professor of Old Germanic philology at the University of Leiden, to G. J. P. J. Bolland (1854-1922) on October 28, 1888. Bolland had devoted himself to the study of the earliest phases of Germanic languages for several years, which included a visit to London in 1879 and a short stay at the German University of Jena in 1880, before he left for Batavia the following year for a lucrative job as a teacher. In his years in the tropics, Bolland developed into a prominent philosopher, but Old Germanic philology still kept his interest. In a letter to Cosijn in 1885, he wistfully mentioned his “former Germanicist me” and wrote: “old love never dies, and I would love to become a Germanicist again”. Yet Cosijn’s prophecy came true: after returning from Batavia in 1896, Bolland became a professor of philosophy at the University of Leiden, and he would never return to the study of Old Germanic languages.
The Bolland-Cosijn correspondence: A philological treasure trove
The main purpose of the project is to publish the correspondence between Bolland and Cosijn, forty-nine letters which are now kept in the University Library of Leiden. This correspondence provides a unique insight into the evolution of the scholarly study of Old Germanic languages: personal remarks about several important figures within the field, including Eduard Sievers (“a most sweet man” – Bolland) and Richard Morris (“a good man, but a poor musician” – Cosijn) are interspersed with discussions of linguistic peculiarities (including the Katwijk dialect), questionable etymologies and corrupt editions of, for example, Beowulf. The letters are also of import for an insight into Bolland’s personality: Bolland criticized his fellow students at Jena, complained that he missed his fiancée and grumbled about the standard of living in Batavia. As such, the letters inform us about this formative period in the life of Bolland. A particularly interesting find is a poem written by G. J. P. J. Bolland in Old English: “Se gleomann” [The minstrel]. The poem, composed in the alliterative style of the English spoken in the early Middle Ages, relates how a minstrel misses his beloved. Bolland probably wrote it for his wife, but he also sent it to his professor! Thus, the correspondence also affords a glance at the intimate relationship between a professor and his (self-taught) student at the end of the nineteenth century.
Learning Old English in the late nineteenth century
In addition to the Bolland-Cosijn correspondence, the project will consider other documents that shed light on Bolland’s interest in the Old Germanic languages, particularly Old English. In 1880, Bolland himself wrote A Short Chronological List of English Literature (1880), an unpublished literary history of English. In it, he paid particular attention to the older literature and added, among other things, his own summary of the Old English poem Beowulf. Bolland also left to the University Library several annotated books on Old English and other Old Germanic languages. His copy of Jacob Grimm’s Deutsche Grammatik (1822–1840), for instance, is heavily annotated in the sections about Old English. Bolland’s Chronological List and his annotations will show how a student at the end of the nineteenth century tried to master the language and literature of early medieval England, without the extensive courses and material that are available today.
Bolland Fonds subsidy
This research project is funded by the Leiden University Fund (LUF) / Bolland Fonds, a fund aiming to preserve all books and letters by Professor G. J. P. J. Bolland in the Leiden University Library. The fund also supports the study of Boland’s life and work and promotes the publication of editions of the works of Bolland. The project will result in a modern critical edition of the forty-nine letters between Bolland and Cosijn and at least one article in a peer-reviewed journal. At the end of the project, a symposium will be held to present some of the notable outcomes of the project. I will regularly post updates about the project on my blog www.dutchanglosaxonist.com
Blog posts and news items related to this project:
- Benjamin Thorpe: The Man Who Translated Almost All Old English Texts
- Henry Sweet: The Man Who Taught the World Old English
- Richard Morris: The Man Who Popularized Early English
- “A conspicuous specimen of Anglosaxon poetry”: A student summary of Beowulf from 1880
- Thijs Porck receives Bolland Fonds research subsidy (news item on Leiden University website)
- Observations about the Katwijk dialect from 1879 (guest blog on Leiden Special Collections Blog)
- Unieke bron over het Katwijks uit 1879 aan het licht gebracht (article in electronic journal for Dutch Studies Neerlandistiek.nl)