Paul Begheyn, S. J. Jesuit Books in the Dutch Republic and its Generality Lands 1567-1773: A Bibliography

Paul Begheyn, S. J. Jesuit Books in the Dutch Republic and its Generality Lands 1567-1773: A Bibliography. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2014. xvii, 454 p. ill. ISBN 9789004270602. €150.00 (hardcover).

Jesuit Books in the Dutch Republic and its Generality Lands delights in its thoroughness. In the opening lines of both the preface and the introduction, we are reminded that, for the last two decades, the author of this work, Paul Begheyn, has combed through Europe’s research libraries in search of hard bibliographical evidence of early-modern Jesuit book publishing. He has fleshed out our understanding of some fascinating volumes, made many new discoveries, and chased down extant copies of the most obscure texts. That such remarkable and valuable work might have struggled to find a suitable publisher—Begheyn describes his volume as born under a lucky star, catching a wave of growing interest in the history and culture of the Jesuits—is truly regrettable.

Bibliophiles, serious students of the Jesuits and those, like the current author, fascinated by the richness and diversity of the products that exited from the presses of Europe’s “North” during the early modern period, will find much to admire. Begheyn justifiably revels in the ways that his bibliography updates and extends aspects of its departure point, the Alsatian Jesuit Carlos Sommervogel’s turn of the twentieth-century Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus, as well as other subsequent scholarly work. The bibliographer finds 430 editions not mentioned in Sommervogel, dismisses many false attributions and, due to his exclusive focus on the Dutch republic and its generality lands, provides substantially more detailed descriptions which extend to the street address of book publishers. It provides a level of detail and completeness that contrasts sharply with the patchy coverage provided by the Short Title Catalogue Netherlands (STCN).

And Begheyn’s scholarly focus certainly does amount to something. The hard graft behind Jesuit Books in the Dutch Republic creates a bibliographic dataset as contained and complete as we might possibly hope. And it is this completeness that provides a spectacular insight into the extent and nature of the Jesuits’ “Dutch” network, as well as many of its facets. Its spatial dimensions are especially interesting. Whilst the network unsurprisingly centred upon Amsterdam, 369 printers in 39 towns are listed. Relatively few printers used false addresses, although a minority of Amsterdam Catholics preferred to put Antwerp on their wares to more easily escape Dutch censorship. And its temporal fluctuations and changes—Begheyn takes us from before the origins of the Dutch Republic, through the Golden Age, and right to the suppression of the Jesuits—are both marked and telling. The latter entries remind us, of course, that the radical presses of the likes of Marc-Michel Rey were far from the whole story of Dutch printing during the Enlightenment.

It would be greedy to ask for more. But, considering all Begheyn’s archival legwork, it is hard not to imagine a desk crammed full of titbits of print runs and complicated authorial arrangements and publishing affairs that are not detailed in Jesuit Books in the Dutch Republic and its Generality Lands. Although the opening presentation is good, the bibliography contains few notes to enrich or explain its contents. And, perhaps related, one wonders if this most bookish of books born under a lucky star might not one day enjoy some digital afterlife. The richness and complexity of the information presented at times seems straitjacketed by its strictly chronological presentation. What patterns might be lurking unnoticed in all the data? Perhaps a digital edition would prove another twenty-year endeavour so, for not at least, we can be happy that specialists and bibliographers will appreciate Begheyn’s excellent labour of love just as it is!

Mark Curran

Queen Mary University of London