Weyerman’s Biography

On 9 August Elisabeth Someruell, a camp follower and the wife of Hendrick Weyerman, a soldier, gave birth to a healthy boy, probably in the army camp at Charleroi in present-day Belgium. The child was christened Jacobus. Elisabeth almost certainly came from Scotland, and consequently Jacob Campo Weyerman was already au fait with English at a young age, still a rare thing in the Dutch Republic at the time.

View of the fortress Charleroi (1672), by Gaspar Bouttats.

Weyerman spent his childhood years in the garrison town of Breda, where his mother ran a pub. His father served in the Dutch army and hardly ever saw his family. He died in 1695.

Weyerman took painting lessons from several artists in Breda and was taught French and Latin at school. Later he attended painting classes in Delft and also received a grounding in Hebrew, Greek, theology, philosophy, ancient history, mathematics and astronomy in a village school nearby. In 1699 he returned to Breda, at the age of twenty-two.

Around the turn of the century Weyerman was living in Bruges, where he claimed to have had a series of love affairs. In 1704 he was in Antwerp. Here, too, he was fond of female company, becoming briefly involved with a certain Donna Maria Agatha y Andrade. Afterwards he provided a less than flattering account of this lady: ‘She was a thin woman with a tawny face, rather like an old church lamp that has been blackened by the smoke of ponderous oil.’

Starting out on a literary career

In 1704 Weyerman started out on a literary career working as a correspondent for the newspaper Antwerpsche post-tydinge. By his own account an excellent training ground in the art of deceit: ‘I became so expert at lying in this job that I could have earned a living doing the rounds as a false witness in all the courts of Normandy.’
Weyerman moved from town to town, probably looking for patrons willing to commission a painting. From Den Briel he crossed over to London to call upon painters from Brabant and Holland. He found employment in Sir Godfrey Kneller’s workshop, where it was his job to add details like flowers, fruit, birds and butterflies to Kneller’s paintings.

A flower piece, by Jacob Campo Weyerman. Coll. Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

The first of a series of comedies written by Weyerman appeared in Bruges, Ghent and Breda this year.

Weyerman went back to London several times. In 1709 he again embarked for Harwich and hired a horse to travel across the country in search of commissions. He earned money painting members of the nobility and produced many large canvases, but also turned his hand to cabinet pictures, which he sold to wealthy clients. Later he would boast that he personally presented two mirrors to Queen Anne that had been decorated by him with flowers, fruit and butterflies.

Once back in the Dutch Republic, Weyerman landed in the artistic circles of’s-Hertogenbosch. In this southern town he made the acquaintance of Lambert Pain et Vin, a local dignitary, flower grower and art dealer, who commissioned a few flower pieces from Weyerman. They were not to remain friends forever, however. After Pain et Vin had fallen into bankruptcy in 1718, Weyerman launched a volley of sharp satirical jabs at his former patron.

Weyerman next moved to the province of Holland, where he became involved in the art trade and attended several art auctions, in Delft, Bodegraven, Rotterdam and Amsterdam. The second edition of his comedies, first published in 1705, appeared in Amsterdam. Obviously the public had acquired a taste for Weyerman’s satirical talent.

On 30 June Weyerman pledged to marry Johanna Ernst in Breda, but he was not eager to tie the knot. The bride-to-be was forced to exercise patience until 1727.
On 2 May Weyerman enrolled in the Faculty of Medicine in Leiden at the age of 37.
Presumably in this year he was hired as a journalist by Felix de Klopper, the publisher of the Leydse courant. Many years later the Leiden physician, botanist, and man of letters Johannes le Francq van Berkheij referred to his grandfather’s encounters with Weyerman. His grandfather, who worked for the same newspaper, recalled how Weyerman would ‘occasionally throw in a piece, though mostly to mock the French or the English Tories and Whigs; also a few private persons were made to feel the sharp end of his pen’.

Once back in Breda, Weyerman was apparently ready to settle down. By then he had already fathered two children with Johanna Ernst. In Breda he earned his living as the court painter of Prince William of Hessen, the governor of Breda, though he also continued to be active in the art trade.

The quiet years are over. The year 1718 sees Weyerman moving around the country as a travelling art dealer. In March he was in London, where he witnessed a public hanging at Tyburn. A year later he was back in Antwerp to attend painting and sculpturing classes once again. After leaving Antwerp he moved to Rotterdam, where he decided to try living off his pen. It is in this city that Weyerman – obviously inspired by The Tatler – began his first satirical periodical: De Rotterdamsche Hermes (1720-1721). The work was a resounding success, and many more would follow.

Weyerman, translator and journalist

In Amsterdam Weyerman started a new periodical, his equally successful Amsterdamschen Hermes (1721-1723).

He was obviously not a devoted husband, because there were affairs with sweethearts in Utrecht and in The Hague. Encouraged by his success, he continued producing one periodical after the other, amongst which the Ontleeder der Gebreeken (1723-1725) and the Echo des weerelds (1725-1727). He also began work on a translation of Henry Care’s Weekly pacquet of advice from Rome restored, publishing it as the Historie des pausdoms (1725-1728).

In this year Weyerman must have come to the conclusion that a sharp pen is a very powerful medium. In his Echo des weerelds he announced to release a ‘tell-all’ biography about a rich widow. In return for two silver candle sticks as a reward, this ‘Stage Kitten’ managed to persuade Weyerman to call off the project. During his interrogation in 1739, the attempted blackmail was one of the most serious charges against him.

Weyerman finally married Johanna Ernst, in Breukelen-Nijenrode. The bride had to wait for the formal confirmation of their relationsip for fourteen years. Their children Jacobus and Henricus, both in their teens, were present at the ceremony. The writing continued to flow, with new work from England, The principal motives & circumstances that induced Moses Marcus to leave the Jewish, & embrace the Christian faith waiting to be translated. First published in London in 1724, it was brought out as De voornaamste beweegredenen en omstandigheden die aanleyding hebben gegeeven aan Moses Marcus tot het verlaten van den Joodschen, en tot het aannemen van den kristelyken godsdienst.

The Weyerman family moved to Amsterdam. Weyerman himself claimed the family left Breukelen because the region was damp, as a result of which he contracted malaria. A dispute with his landlord about the rent, however, indicates he was actually living above his means.
The first issue of De doorzichtige heremyt was published this year. The weekly periodical had to be discontinued after a mere six months, but the complete edition was reprinted some forty years later.

More titles were to follow. Only two issues were published of De vrolyke kourantier (1729), though Weyerman had greater success with Den vrolyke tuchtheer (1729-1730). The first parts of his profusely illustrated Levens-beschryvingen der Nederlandsche konst-schilders en konst-schilderessen (1729) were eagerly bought by the public. The final part of this artists’ biography, however, was only published forty years later, in 1769, when Weyerman had long passed away.

On 18 May Johanna Jacoba Weyerman, the daughter of Johanna Ernst en Jacob Campo Weyerman, was baptized in the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam.
Weyerman was meanwhile still engaged in translation work. In Amsterdam he published the Merkwaardige levensgevallen van den beruchten kolonel Chartres (1730), a biography of the ‘Rape-Master general’ Francis Charteris. Accounts of Charteris’ trial had previously appeared in Dutch newspapers, and Weyerman had found a hot topic.

At the same time, however, he also produced both a sober work on the persecution of sodomites and the virulently anti-Papist Leevens van den paus Alexander den VI. en van zyn zoon Caesar Borgia (1731). In 1731 Weyerman started yet another periodical: the Laplandschen tovertrommel.

In The Hague Weyerman visited the fake baron Johann Heinrich von Syberg. Syberg, a native of Magdeburg, claimed to possess the Philosopher’s Stone, with which he was able to make gold and cure the sick. Weyerman tried to strike a business deal with the German would-be baron, but he, too, was duped by the master fraud.

He proceeded to dedicate another periodical, Den kluyzenaar in een vrolyk humeur (1733), to Baron von Syberg with a pen dipped in venom. He was not the only one to see through the Baron’s fraudulent practices, but he was certainly one of the few able to turn Syberg’s deceit into a good story.
Weyerman must have realized he was on to something and published more works exposing the impostures of his former chum. De leevens byzonderheden van Johan Hendrik, baron van Syberg (1733) is a satirical pseudo-biography cautioning the reader against deceit and gullibility. Weyerman also targeted the alchemist Syberg in his play Den Maagdenburgsche alchimist (1733).

The ink begins to bite

Weyerman again tried to launch a new periodical, but the public appears to have grown weary of him and he found it increasingly difficult to cash in on his satirical talent. Den adelaar (1735) crashed after no more than nine issues, while his Den Talmud ofte overzeldzaamen Joodsche vertellingen (1736) ceased to appear within less than two months.

At the age of 59 Weyerman enrolled for the second time as a student of medicine at the University of Leiden. He did not obtain a degree, and it is possible he never seriously embarked on this study. Matriculation brought with it certain advantages, and many would-be students enrolled only to be eligible for tax exemption – beer tax, for instance.
Weyerman, unstoppable, ventured on a new periodical: De naakte waarheyt (1737), but he was forced to put out the light after twelve instalments.
In his satirical Piet fopt Jan en Jan fopt Piet, Weyerman lashed out at Jesuits and Jansenists alike. At the time he was living in the free town of Vianen to evade his debtors, where he made a big mistake and targeted a local worthy in his Verdeediging van Jakob Campo Weyerman tegens Alexander le Roux (1737). A very unwise decision, as will appear.

The next work to see the light of day was De zeldzaame leevens-byzonderheden van Laurens Arminius, Jakob Campo Weyerman, Robert Hennebo, Jakob Veenhuyzen (1738). Perhaps by this time he was so desperate for money that he was forced to exploit the adventures of his drinking cronies Arminius, Hennebo and Veenhuyzen.
In his Voorlooper van de Kronyk der bankrotiers (1738), Weyerman also threatened to expose the band of swindlers who had sought refuge in Vianen. Again: not a wise move, as it reflected on the magistrates of the town of Vianen, who had granted domicile to these very bankrupts. The consequences for Weyerman turned out to be sadly predictable.
After having characterized Culemborg, another well-known harbour for bankrupts, as a robbers’ den, Weyerman was declared unwanted in that town. By then, however, several inhabitants of Culemborg had already been dragged through the mud. Weyerman next approached a few other prominent citizens of Culemborg, offering them the chance to buy off an entry in the forthcoming Kronyk with a handsome sum of money. Pure blackmail!

Going down for life

On 17 December 1738 the law caught up with Weyerman in Vianen. He managed to struggle free and clamber over a wall, but the sexagenarian author was soon overtaken, overpowered and clapped into irons. The report of his arrest was sent to the Court of Holland in The Hague. A few days later he was transferred to prison, the still existing Gevangenpoort, in The Hague.

Gevangenpoort, The Hague (1830). Painted by Johannes Adrianus van der Drift. Coll. Rijksmuseum

On 9 July 1739 Weyerman was sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of blackmail and the wilful and calculated publication of injurious libels. A ‘crown witness’ for the prosecution is his poem Enthusiasmus, containing many defamatory remarks against the governors of the East India Company.
Once locked away in the Gevangenpoort, he was allowed the use of brush and paints to make a living, but the heavy bars made it difficult for him to work. He put in a request to be able to paint behind glass, which was denied. The Court of Holland also put a stop to the stream of visitors coming to see Weyerman, ruling that in future, only his next of kin, booksellers and painters would be permitted to see him. All the while Weyerman was working on his Vermakelyk wagen-praatje (1739), a vindication of a down-and-out hack writer and his final reckoning with friends and foes in the book trade.

Making money behind bars was not easy. In the cold month of December, the Court of Holland granted Weyerman a set of warm clothes.

Begging for favours

Weyerman was not above flattery to get in the good books of the members of the Court of Holland. He wrote a Zegenzang in den aanvang des jaars 1741. Aan den Edelen Hove van Holland, Zeeland en Westfriesland (1741) and had it printed at his own expense. Obviously he could not find a publisher willing to put up the money for the edition.

Weyerman was also unable to interest a publisher in bringing out his Eenige letterlievende, zeedekundige, historische en stichtelyke betrachtingen (1742). Again he was forced to pay for the work out of his own pocket.

Weyerman petitioned for an allowance on behalf of his wife and children, because his family was unable to make ends meet. The request was granted.

Weyerman was finally permitted an annual allowance of 60 guilders to buy coffee, tea and tobacco, but the money was paid out directly to his wife.
He published a few more laudatory poems in the hope of gaining favour with the magistrates of The Hague.

A sorry end

Out of the blue, Weyerman came out with the ambitiously produced Voornaamste gevallen van den wonderlyken Don Quichot (1746), a work illustrated with splendid engravings by the master engraver Bernard Picart. Don Quichot was brought out in two formats, in quarto and in folio, and in luxury bindings with gilt edges.

Jacob Campo Weyerman died at the age of 70 on 9 March. He was given a pauper’s funeral.
A year later his widow Johanna Ernst tried to make some extra money by publishing her late husband’s Eenige letterlievende, zeedekundige, historische en stichtelyke betrachtingen. The work was probably not a success. In 1749 she was again granted an allowance, this time by the reformed consistory of The Hague. Johanna Ernst remained dependent on charity until her death in 1775.