Samuel van de Putte -1

Europeans 18th century

 

Foreword

Mission of Bogle

The Marco Polo of the Lowlands’ the Brit George Bogle named him in his travelogue of Tibet in 1774.

A few other old travel books mentioned him, with similar wonder, in a footnote with similar wonder as ‘the Mandarin from Middleburgh’.

Of course, many Europeans of his time travelled the world – jesuits, capuchins, merchants – but hardly anyone ever did so overland. Let alone continuously for thirty years by himself.

Except for some personally drawn maps and signed agreements, almost nothing is known about the man. Not surprisingly. After three decades of wandering the world, Samuel had ordered from his deathbed in Batavia to burn all his papers.

Incomprehensible. Did he turn into a foolish eccentric after having travelled alone for so long or had he – perhaps due to his three-year stay amongst the lamas of Lhasa – rather become the opposite? It kept intriguing me intriguing from the seventies onwards. 

Kaiser Library

The old travel books, however, that were to be found at the time in bizarre libraries like the Kaiser Library in Kathmandu or that were tucked away on upper shelves in antiquated Darjeeling bookstores, however, never yielded any result.

Until 1987, when ‘Een Mandarijn uit Vlissingen’ was published. In their unintended publication of some remaining fragments Frank Lequin and Albert Meijer gathered from libraries and archives all known writings and documents concerning Samuel van de Putte.

‘The rest of his life can only be imagined in a historical novel,’ Frank Lequin stated during the radio interview I had  with the two compilers at the time.

I did not quite agree. It could be interesting, for example, to follow Samuel's footsteps - even if not actually.

In 2003 'Tibetaanse Perziken’ by Carolijn Visser was published. In the book she travels the map of Tibet that Samuel outlined for himself. The book, however, mainly relates her own, present day travel experiences.

Yet, it seems possible to me to draw – without romanticizing – a picture of Samuel by describing where, when and with whom he must have interacted during his travels.

Let me give it a try.

In order not to start every second sentence with ‘maybe' or ‘it could be that’, I at times go for the obvious choice. When Samuel starts the voyage together with Egmond and other friends, for example, I assume that they embark – like more wealthy young lads at the time – in his homewtown harbour Vlissingen (Flushing) for Calais in France.

By following his footsteps I hope to find some answer – a indication is fine with me as well – as to why Samuel, just before his death, preferred to erase the trail of his never-ending travel.


Samuel van de Putte part one

 Samuel's inkpot, to be seen in ‘Muzeeum’ in Vlissingen.


The young men knew each other from their law studies at Leiden. Not that they were friends. Independently, though, they sometimes did think about going on a grand tour. But in the early eighteenth century it was rather foolish to travel alone through southern Europe.

Too much war everywhere.


Grachten

On the road, you could join other sons of wealthy merchants, regents or nobility. At night in the inn, however, you could as well end up at the same dinner table as European fellow tour-ists whose fathers were at war with yours.


Before departure most members of Egmond’s group of friends had already been appointed alderman or city councilor – the  noblesse de robe.

‘The offspring studies law at Leiden,’ the historian Huizinga sneered, ’and then departs to make a grand tour of France and Italy.’

(The small tour did not go beyond the river Loire and only lasted a year or so.)

The initiative to go collectively after all came from Egmond. Since receiving their degree certificate, the War of the Spanish Succession terminated, the Treaty of Utrecht was in the making and their lives had moved on four years. If not now, when?


Groot tour groep


In the spring of 1718 they take the ferry to Calais. In order to travel on, alternately by river and road, to Lyon, Padua, Venice, Ravenna, Rimini, Pesaro, Faro and Rome.

A large or remarkable group they were not. Apart from their wealthy upbringing, the college friends mainly shared that none of them sympathized much with the francophile gentilshommes. They preferred to go straight down to Italy.

zeilboot

In Vlissingen they booked an open boat that sailed close to the shore. This was safer than aboard a large ship at sea. As a passenger you did have to sleep on the wooden deck in the open air, but you ran less danger of being attacked.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, hundreds, if not thousands of young men had preceded them. And as usual, the stories best remembered are the ones when everything went frighteningly wrong.

Bootramp

Like the tragedy with the small group that suddenly, one day after embarkation, ended up in complete stillness of wind. Their drink and food had unfortunately been calculated for the standard two days. During the long, quiet hours the passengers grew more and more certain of seeing pirate sails approaching slowly but steadily across the mirror-smooth sea…

As soon as their sail caught wind, the boat headed straight for the coast. In panic and dazed by thirst, hunger and fright, the passengers climbed the cliffs… only to be awaited by aggressive villagers and cayboeven (lit. quay crooks) who had been watching the boat closely, day and night.


Aankomst kust


Such histoires d'horreur incessantly buzzed through the ages, whether largely true or truly exaggerated. Each darling son was required to provide the folks back home with a credible report – as a sign of life as well as a justification of expenditures. Usually this led to long letters to the family, but sometimes in resulted in a future-guide for younger brothers or in a printed travelogue upon return. Most popular allegory was the wandering traveller as a God-seeking man.

Italië reisgids 18de eeuw

Numerous booklets for friends with inside information, advice and suggestions circulated as well. While some drily noted the facts, others tried to make their reis-heuchenis (travel memories) as juicy as possible. After all, a summary of the route with points of interest was generally known.

An average large tour amounted to about six hundred pounds a year – converted to the present some fifty thousand euro.

Of course, ordinary folks – workers, soldiers, sailors, priests, monks  –travelled for a fraction thereof. Since many could barely sign their names, very few of them ever left any report. As a consequence, as anytime anywhere, mainly the elite recorded (its) history.

map

As the route to Paris was more or less standard after so many predecessors, the trip was far from harmless. Attacker knew exactly where to hide in the bushes. 

Especially run-away or discarded soldiers were feared.

Also in those days Europeans cherished prejudices about each other. The British complained about the dirty, arrogant Frenchmen who seemed to have to defecate at any moment at any place. And the Italian women were far too direct according to the young noble and gently born.

Portret tour-ist

However, the great museums, extensive gardens, magnificent cathedrals, impressive monuments and charming squares did make up for all of that.


The young lords sometimes travelled by coach, accompanied by a governor, guard and servant. Many of them never got beyond Paris’ nightlife.

onderweg

In their home countries there were concerns that the grand tour was unwholesome for our future leaders. And the fact that lots of money ended up in the hands of rivals if not enemies, was just as important.


Through the ages, money and conduct remained major contentious issues. During the voyagie the  gentilshommes rarely had much cash with them, but often they did carry a gun. Amongst them lists of bank names and trading houses circulated, where father’s bills of exchange or letters of credit could be cashed. At hefty commissions.

Whenever money ran out, dear son would rather not request a new bill of exchange but a letter of credit. On the exchange-bill the amount was fixed.

Groote tour 4xportret

There were also histoires d'horreur were also numerous about money and conduct: Father, if you desire me to pay all those visits to relatives, museums and operas and report on them, surely I need at least a new wardrobe with matching shoes and wigs, as well as a better pistol and two horses.

The so-called enjoyment tours or divertissement trips certainly did not come cheap. The cost of a voyage on avarage equalled thirty to forty times the annual income of a labourer.

Tour

For two, three centuries behaviour and money and behavior remained major controversies in correspondence home. According to the classy adolescents, they were apparently obliged to make the bildungsreise; conversely, however, their class had an obligation to them as well. The capital deepening was meant to raise the family prestige.

The aim was for the son to be able to carry a conversation in any environment, since the young adult had become familiar with ancient languages and cultures. At least with French, Italian, Greek, as well as architecture, art and theatre in Paris, Venice, Rome and sporadically even in Constantinople.

For that later in life, as a merchant, regent or aristocrat, he would not be scored off or intimidated. The trip to Paris and Rome was a pragmatic investment - at least from father’s point of view.

Groote tour sensueel

From his own experience, the wealthy old man knew very well that his son, no less well-off, would explore very different kinds of freedom over there, far away from any parental authority. And that such sudden carte blanche could easily turn into debauchery. Or worse: into ungodliness. Or worse-worse: hit a hole in the family fortune and provision for old age.

Pointing out his own responsibility at departure to a tweenager who is about to go out into the wide, wide world and naively find himself in one entirely new situation after the other, is somewhat late.

‘My dear son, don’t do anything your father would not do.’

– Really, father, am I allowed that much? Thanks!


Reisboek Italië

Important was, the Old Guard believed, to bind the youthful heir before departure. For instance, by appointing him  to a high public post in advance. Or by already arranging a house of his own.

And then pray he will return in one piece and leave behind – God be with us – all damage, shame, scandal and debts, over there, in those foreign places – be it the ancient world or one of the colonies.


(Had the centuries-old grand tour tradition not suddenly been demolished by the French liberté, égalité, fraternité  revolution of 1789, the discovery of the steam locomotive would have done so not much later.)


Groote tour twee bos


Egmond's future was virtually tied down. From cradle to grave. Unless he would break away.  By preferring (night)life in Paris forever or marrying ‘beneath his class’.

Not so Egmond van Nijenburg.

After law school, he  joined the Leyden City Council as a matter of course. His parents did not need to secretly negotiate his appointment.  The regent family from Alkmaar had simply become - in a questionably short time – too wealthy.

A dozen years earlier on, Egmond’s father had been appointed Baron of the Holy Roman Empire by Emperor Joseph I for 'proven service’ (undoubtedly financially). As a consequence,  the family was allowed to erase the derogatory bastard line: the oblique stripe that had to run transversely through the coat of arms if the family line descended from an illegitimate child.

Thus, along with the imperial title, a new impressive pedigree was retroactively legalized.


Groote tour


Samuel came from a rather different nest. Some of his ancestors stemmed from Flanders. On father's side many had been pharmacists or physicians.              

On mother's side, the Biscop family from Zierikzee, a few had made it in the past to mayor, city accountant or bailiff (representative of the monarch). Grandpa Biscop, as well as a few grand-uncles, climbed up to senior posts in the Admiralty.

During the Golden Age, Vlissingen expanded from a simple fishing village to a lively town. As a regular harbour it was not really safely situated amidst the numerous inlets and escape routes. As a base for privateering, however, it lay very strategically along the coast. Even from Spain, France and eastern commercial cities adventurers came to Vlissingen. Not to seek fortune in merchant shipping but in privateering.


vlissingen aanzicht 18de eeuw


Historians who like polishing the historical blazon, emphasize that privateering contribute to the state treasury while pirates merely fill their own pockets. As if during turbulent times it is clear who by what law and for whose reason or purpose is entitled to any state treasury.

Against a percentage of the loot, the ones in power provided privateering licenses. This might as well be seen as abetting crime and fencing. However, the historical justification is invariably: the other states did it as well.

As a phenomenon pirates did not only have more in common with the ever-adventurous maritime community than with any state, in a sense, they also fought the structures and dominance of intrusive societies, just like the privateers.

(Not so different from the present privateers or hijacking pirates off the coasts of Somalia, Thailand or Indonesia, attacking the amassed wealth of the western world.)


Zeeslag


However, Zeeland fought a rearguard action against Amsterdam. The looted millions hardly benefited trading and shipping in Zeeland. Profits mainly disappeared into the pockets of a few wealthy ship-owners and merchants. On the Zeeland islands beautiful patrician houses appeared, some of which can still be found there.

Even the licensed privateers at times openly rebelled against the Republic. The emerging state – whoever it represented – decreed that pirates had to get their feet washed.

Meaning: into the sea with them, alive.


kaapvaart 2


At the same time the Barbary pirates from Northern Africa were bought off, both with treaties and financially. To ransom imprisoned christian slaves, villages at home organized collections and lotteries. Captured Africans, however, were standardly sold to Spain as galley slaves.

At the end of the seventeenth century, when Samuel was born, the golden privateering years of Vlissingen were not even gilded anymore. So many boats and ships had gotten involved with the plundering – open casino at sea – that the town hardly had any traditional fish trade left.

Kaart-van-Zeeland-uit-1643-Blaeu

Only the largest ship companies were still earning gold, mostly with the transport of slaves or addictive stimulants from one continent to another.

At the time of Samuel's youth, Vlissingen had fallen back to earlier times: a fairly ordinary, sparsely populated village on one of Zeeland’s many islands. Even more so after the settlement of the Spanish Succession in 1713. Despite financial investments even the former fishing tradition could not be revived.

Samuel's father, however, had made his fortune in time. In his younger years, Carel’s career had rapidly risen. During the four-day naval battle of 1666 he was captain and seven years later, during the inauguration of William III as King of Scotland and England, he was Vice Admiral.

buitengoederen kaapvaartkopie

Though his titles provided him with contacts and contracts, the salary itself was fairly modest. Thanks to the epaulettes, however, he amassed huge revenues from ‘buitengoederen’ (lit. outside goods) as old documents describe his participation in ship looting.

Turning fifty, Carel abandoned the plundering and the princely jobs to be able to stay ashore. On the Dokkade he purchases two adjacent houses, marries the 23-year-old Johanna Biscop and in quick succession fathers three sons and two daughters. Given the taxes they have to pay, the family belongs to the upper class. 

Less than ten years later, both parents are deceased, leaving five young children behind.

Obviously, Carel van de Putte, after so many years on fierce and high seas, wanted to plant a wealthy, fertile family tree. None of his three sons, however, would eventually produce offspring.


Vlissingen haven

The family home, the two conjoined buildings on the Dokkade, go on sale.The five children find refuge with uncle Pieter who has a big house on the Grote Markt.

Besides being an alderman and a member of the Board of Vlissingen,  in principle for life, uncle Pieter is a bachelor. As a matter of course, he puts the three boys through law studies at Leiden.

Samuel would rather have studied medicine or pharmacy, which after all belongs to the family tradition as well. However, he dutifully completes his law studies with the dissertation ‘The allocation of non-liability’. (In retrospect, a salient issue for someone who will never really belong anywhere.)

Vlssingen schilderij

After his studies, he does not return to Uncle Pieter's home but moves in with his eldest sister. Catherine had meanwhile married Philibert of Boeschot, a member of the Vlissingen patriciate of regents. A few months later, in May 1715, Samuel joins the Council of Vlissingen, basically a position for life as well. (Thirteen years later, the municipal administration will declare it vacant.)

From the legacy of his parents, he buys back the house of his birth, the two conjoined houses along the Dokkade. A little later he even acquires an adjoining corridor in order to facilitate access to the back of the property.

He will never live there.


Kade aanzicht Parijs


Spring 1718 Samuel embarks with Egmond’s group to start their joint grand tour. To the majority of tour-ists France is the most exciting prospect.  Immediately over the border they have the latest fashion houses come over and dress them up.

Via Tours and Lyon, Egmond and his friends head straight for Italy. Not an easy road, but en route they are amongst fellow travellers. For most of them Venice is highest on the list, thanks to its universities, its annual carnival, casinos and numerous small drinking establishments, as well as its reputation as ‘brothel of the South’.


Venetië 2


The famous and celebrated beauty of the city itself, however, is defeated by the penetrating odour that ‘irrevocably makes one sick'. As in the Venice of the North (Amsterdam) its residents use the canals as an open sewer.

Anyway, 'eventually all roads lead to Rome’.

Every city has renowned neighbourhoods where young travelers meet, instantly recognizable by the large number of drinking and dining options, beggars and hustlers.


Italië 2


Most of the young lads go for trying on hats and shoes and strolling along the promenade, only a few start looking for that one scholar whose book so much impressed them at home.

For part of the two years, Egmond’s group is studying at the famous University of Padua, also known for a mild religious climate. Only later on do they explore the Vatican and Capitoline libraries as well.

For Samuel it is an excellent opportunity to learn about Italian medicine. Therefore, above all, he plunges into Italian.


Soiree


‘Wherever abroad, the studious young man cannot act better,’ Jacob Cats writes in Saemen-spraeck, ‘than to cling to a wise, learned and dignified man to learn and improve himself.’ Of course, cultivating an international network is equally interesting for an ambitious famille.

Important are the introductory letters or credentials – precursors of the passport. For example: a letter from a prominent professor or learned society with the assurance that the lad’s only aim is accumulation of knowledge and science.

Aanbevlingsbrief

The documents give the young men access to the library of the house, the cabinet of curiosities, at times dinner parties and on departure perhaps a recommendation letter to an upper class family in the next city.

Rarely the young get access to a royal court. However, palaces and castles often are the only theater in the area. Just like the villagers, they may come and see performances, but an occassional 'observatio’  – watching majesty at meal  – may be an equally popular pastime.


Majesteit aan diner

‘Veoir la cour’. 

At the beginning of the eighteenth century the grand tour changes significantly. The trip has become socially commonplace, too much so for aristocratic dandies. Modern book printing slowly replaces the classic texts by guides with all sorts of tips and facts.

There is the story of a Dutchman who in a church in Lucca hears an elderly guide claim that a certain pit reaches all the way to hell. The Dutchman pulls a string from his pocket, unrolls it into the put and concludes aloud that it is no deeper than three meters. New tourism has arrived.

In one of the libraries Samuel stumbles upon a book that fascinates him and eventually changes his life: the report of a world tour the physician J. F. Gemelli Careri began in 1693, the Giro Del Mondo.


Gemelli Careri


Twenty years afte its publication it had just been re-issued. In learned circles the writings of the wealthy, somewhat vain adventurer continue to be a huge success.

Gemelli Careri is one of the first writers of travelbooks who clearly does not exaggerate or lie to achieve better sales. His narrative style is personal, unsophisticated, amusing, sometimes even piquant - but clearly not made up.

He travels without any specific purpose and does not conceal, for instance, that at times loneliness makes it hard for him: ‘I sank to the floor, looking for relief from the melancholy in seeing myself among Turks and Greeks without being understood.’

Many things interest him, though. From the everyday human and animal world to the prevailing religion, caste systems, religious orders, state rules and production methods. His anecdotal style makes pleasurable reading for those at home during candlelit winter evenings. Of course, only the elite knows how to read and write.


Salon 2


Gemelli Careri tries to keep his travelling slightly more affordable by buying e.g. dates and wines in one place and selling them further along the route at a higher price.

Giro Del Mondo makes a deep impression on Samuel. Gemelli Carer instantly becomes his role model. Such a free, non-conformist travelling life tickles his imagination. Besides, who or what will stop him, he hardly has any financial or intellectual barrier.

Poort

After Rome, Egmond and Samuel continue their journey to Constantinople (Turkey) and Alexandria (Egypt). However, a trip across the Mediterranean is far from safe. ‘Everywhere lurks the Turk in sea inlets to suddenly fassault you.’

Moreover, no boat is willing to leave the harbour when offshore Corsari (pirates) are suspected. Most life-threatening are, however, wind and storm - or its opposite, windless calm.

Once in Aleppo (Syria), they get the opportunity to join a caravan to Isfahan (Persia). But to Egmond this is too far off. In fact, he was long due to return. At home he has responsibilities to fulfill, more or less the same ones Samuel does not feel bound to.

Egmond takes ‘a gentle farewell’ as he later writes in his journal. Together with some friends from England and Holland, he accompanies Samuel on his way by walking along for half an hour with the caravan into the desert.


Karavaan

 

 Part 2 From Persia to India

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