The Netherlands, 1750–1813
Nicolaas van Sas
On 8 October 1804 Willem Anthonie Ockerse opened the winter series of lectures in the Amsterdam society Doctrina et Amicitia with a talkentitled 'What's the news?' in which he offered a light-hearted theory of human curiosity. According to Ockerse, curiosity and above all the asking of the question 'What's the news?' was a prime characteristic of the condition humaine. Man–and certainly also woman–could only be fulfilled in contact with other human beings. Sociability and the continuous exchange of views were part of human nature, and naturally gave rise to the urge to hear and impart news. Self-interest was obviously an important and daily inspiration for human curiosity. One person might have an interest in inheritances, another in lotteries, a third in stocks, a fourth in shipping news, a fifth in peace or war, a sixth in political events. 'What's the news?' was the first question one asked on entering polite society or coffee house, towing-barge or coach, council chamber or theatre, even– Ockerse added mischievously–sometimes church. In an ever-changing world there was always a great appetite for news. But certainly the sad and terrible events of recent years had added greatly to the demand for news. 'Good heavens! How many things formerly unthought-of have happened in the past years with an ever quickening sequence, the story of which has made humankind cry, sigh and shiver!' Ockerse profoundly hoped that one day the reply to that perennial question 'What's the news?' would be: 'Good news!–order, quiet, peace, freedom, prosperity will return to the peoples of the world, and to the Netherlands. ' 1
Ockerse was not some obscure speaker. He was a well-known figure in contemporary Dutch society, a theologian by training and long-time practising minister, but first and foremost he was an intellectual, a typical product of Dutch enlightened sociability. As such he was also a journalist– co-editor of De Democraten, the best political journal of the Batavian Revolution–a member of parliament in 1797 and 1798 and one of the framers of the first Dutch constitution. 2 But perhaps his most enduring claim to fame is his important study of Dutch national character, published in 1797, which propounds a theory of Dutch society and
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Publication information: Book title: Press, Politics and the Public Sphere in Europe and North America, 1760-1820. Contributors: Hannah Barker - Editor, Simon Burrows - Editor. Publisher: Cambridge University Press. Place of publication: Cambridge, England. Publication year: 2002. Page number: 48.
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