Walter Pieterse - Translator's Preface               



Most of us know that The Hague is somewhere in Holland; and we all know that Queen Wilhelmina takes a beautiful picture; but to how many of us has it occurred that the land of Spinoza and Rembrandt is still running a literary shop?

How many of us have ever heard of Eduard Douwes Dekker? Very few, I fear, except professional critics. And yet, the man who, forty years ago, became famous as Multatuli (I have borne much), was not only the greatest figure in the modern literature of the Netherlands, but one of the most powerful and original writers in the literature of the world. An English critic has called him the Heine of Holland; Anatole France calls him the Voltaire of the Netherlands.

Eduard Douwes Dekker was born in 1820, at Amsterdam, his father being the captain of a merchantman trading in the Dutch colonies. At the age of eighteen Dekker sailed on his father’s vessel for the East Indies, determined to abandon the business career that had been mapped out for him and enter the colonial service. In 1839 he received a clerkship in the civil service at Batavia. He now remained in the employ of the government for seventeen years, being promoted from one grade to another until he was made Assistant Resident of Lebak in 1856.

In this important position he used his influence to better the condition of the natives; but, to his sorrow, he soon found that he did not have the support of his superiors. What he conceived to be right clashed with the line of conduct he was expected to follow. In a rash moment of “righteous indignation” he handed in his resignation; and it was accepted.

This hasty step put an end to a brilliant political career and entailed upon Dekker years of disappointment and hardship. Seeing that he was pursuing the wrong method to help either the Javanese, or himself, he immediately tried to get reinstated, but without success. In 1857 he returned to Holland and applied to the home government, hoping to be vindicated and restored to his post. Again he was disappointed. The government offered him another desirable position; but, as it was a matter of principle with Dekker, he declined it.

When he saw that it was useless to importune the government further, Dekker made his appeal to the people in “Max Havelaar” (1860). The book was an instant success and made the name of Multatuli famous. Through the perfidy of a supposed friend, however, Dekker failed to get very substantial material rewards from this work. For ten years yet he was struggling with poverty.

The Bohemian life that Dekker was now compelled to live—his family was on the sufferance of friends—estranged him from his wife and strengthened what some might call an unfortunate—or, at least, an untimely—literary friendship that Dekker had formed  with a certain Miss Mimi Schepel, of The Hague. The spiritual affinity between the two soon developed a passion that neither could resist. This estimable lady, who afterwards became Dekker’s second wife, is still living, and has edited Dekker’s letters in nine volumes. Dekker died in February, 1887, at his home in Nieder-Ingelheim, where he had lived for several years.

The “Woutertje Pieterse” story was first published in Dekker’s seven volume work entitled “Ideen.” Here it is sandwiched in between miscellaneous sketches, essays and treatises, being scattered all the way from Vol. I to Vol. VII. The story falls naturally into two parts, of which the present volume is the first part. The second part, written in a different key, deals with “Walter’s Apprenticeship.”

A good deal of the flax, or silk, of his Chinaman’s pigtail, to use Dekker’s form of expression, I have unraveled as being extraneous matter. However, despite these omissions, it is quite possible that some very sensitive person may still find objectionable allusions in the book. If so, I must refer that one to the shade of Multatuli. From his own admission his shoulders were evidently broad; and, no doubt, they will be able to bear the additional strain.

Hubert Evans.

New York City,

November, 1904.




Walter Pieterse - Translator's Preface