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JAN RUDOLF THORBECKE (1798-1872)

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Originally appearing in Volume V26, Page 877 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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JAN RUDOLF THORBECKE (1798-1872), Dutch statesman, was born at Zwolle, in the province of Overijssel, on the 14th of January 1798. Thorbecke was of German extraction, his grand-father, Heinrich Thorbecke, having settled in Overijssel towards the end of the 17th century. Little is known of his youth, beyond the fact that he was sent in the year of Waterloo to Amsterdam for his education. For two years he stayed with a Lutheran clergyman of the name of Sartorius, whilst attending the lectures of the Athenaeum Illustre. In 1817 he commenced his studies at Leiden University, proving a brilliant scholar, and twice obtaining a gold medal for his prize essays. In 1820 he obtained the degrees of Lit.D. and LL.D. In the following years Thorbecke undertook a journey of research and study in Germany, staying at most of her famous universities, and making the acquaintance of his best-known contemporaries in the fatherland. At Giessen he lectured as an extraordinary professor, and at Gottingen, in 1824, published his treatise, Ueber das Wesen der Geschichte. After his return to Amsterdam in 1824 Thorbecke wrote his first political work of any importance, Bedenkingen aangaande het Recht en den Staat (" Objections anent Law and the State "), which by its close reasoning and its legal acumen at once drew attention to the young barrister, and procured him in 1825 a chair as professor in Ghent University. Here he wrote two pamphlets of an educational character before 183o. The Belgian revolt of that year forced Thorbecke to resign his position at Ghent, and he subsequently went to Leiden. He did not approve of the Belgian movement, nor of the part that Europe played in it, and published his views in three pamphlets, which appeared in the years 1830 and 1831. In 1831 he was appointed professor of jurisprudence and political science at Leiden University. In that capacity, and, before his appointment at Leiden, as a lecturer on political science, history and economics at Amsterdam, he gained great reputation as a political reformer, particularly after the publication of his standard work, Aanteekeningen op de Grondwet (" Annotations on the Constitution," 1839; and ed., Amsterdam, 1841-1843), which became the textbook and the groundwork for the new reform party in Holland, as whose leader Thorbecke was definitely recognized. Thorbecke's political career until his death, which occurred at the Hague on the 4th of June 1872, is sketched under HOLLAND: History. Thorbecke's speeches in the Dutch legislature were published at Deventer in six volumes (1867-187o), to which should be added a collection of his unpublished speeches, printed at Groningen in 1900. The first edition of his Historische Schetsen (" Historical Essays ") was issued in 1860, the second in 1872. At Amsterdam there appeared in 1873 a highly interesting Correspondence with his academy friend and lifelong political adversary Groen van Prinsterer (q.v.), which, although dating back to the early 'thirties, throws much light on their subsequent relations and the political events that followed 1848. Of Dutch statesmen during the Napoleonic period, Thorbecke admired Falck and Van Hogendorp most, whose principles he strove to emulate. Of Van Hogendorp's Essays and Speeches, indeed, he published a standard edition, which is still highly valued. Thorbecke's speeches form a remarkable continuation of Van Hogendorp's orations, not only in their style, but also in their train of thought. Thorbecke's funeral furnished the occasion for an imposing national demonstration, which showed how deeply he was revered by all classes of his countrymen. In 1876 a statue of Thorbecke was unveiled in one of the squares of Amsterdam. Thorbecke's gifts and public services as a statesman have been as fully recognized as his political genus has been. As an orator and writer his style was clear and forcible. His very dogmatism brought him many enemies, but at times, especially when he went in advance of his time, he was a much misunderstood man. These misunderstandings, frequently wilful, extended often beyond the domain of pure politics. Thus, by his enemies, Thorbecke was often held up to scorn as a pure materialist and no friend of the fine arts, because at a sitting of the states-general in 1862 he had said that it is not the duty of the state, nor in the true interest of art itself, for the government to " protect " art, since all state-aided art must be artificial, like any forced plant. This was popularly condensed into the aphorism, yet current in Holland, that " Art is not the business of the government," and Thorbecke was condemned as the author of it. Again, his adversaries used to call him a dangerous demagogue. As a matter of fact, there was no more ardent royalist than Thorbecke. He believed in constitutional monarchy, as offering the best guarantees both for sovereign and people, and he was bitterly opposed to all forms of state socialism. Long before his death he realized that he had outlived his own principles, and many of his former admirers had commenced to dub him a " rank conservative," whose political aims and reforms were no longer adequate. But Thorbecke's life-work will endure, and the Dutch constitution of 1887 practically embodied his principles, as laid down in the constitution of 1848. The former is the outcome of the latter and could not have been made without it. The best biographical sketch of Thorbecke we owe to the late Professor Buys, his principal scholar and devoted friend, whose biography appeared rn 1876 at Tiel. Another biography which deserves mention was issued in the same year at the Hague, from the pen of Dr J. A. Levy, an Amsterdam lawyer. (H. Ti.)
End of Article: JAN RUDOLF THORBECKE (1798-1872)
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