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THERE is no popular life of de Ruyter in English, for the brief notices of him in the “Encyclopædia Britannica” and “ Chambers's Encyclopædia” can hardly be so described.
This is all the more strange, as, during part of his career, Holland was the greatest seafaring nation in Europe, and de Ruyter was the greatest of the Dutch Admirals.*
So much were Englishmen of that day impressed by his great abilities, and his simple and manly character, that an English biography appeared soon after he died, published by Dorman Newman, "for J. B.,” in 1677.7
* There is a general agreement that de Ruyter is the foremost figure, not only in the Dutch service, but among all the naval officers of that age. Mahan's “Influence of Sea Power upon History," p. 116.
† In 1676 there was published in Amsterdam “Leeven en Daden Der Doorluchtighste Zee-Helden," by V. D. B. (Lambert van den Bos), dedicated to de Ruyter's son. This contains his first biography.
It is now almost unknown outside of the British Museum, but the Dutch “Life of de Ruyter," by Gerard Brandt, which was published in Amsterdam in 1687, remains the chief authority on the subject.
Two other Dutch biographies of importance, by Belinfante, 1852, and Looman, 1860, are well known in Holland. *
The following pages, representing with some additions a Lecture prepared for the workingmen of Sydenham, are therefore offered, not as the work of an expert in naval warfare, but as a simple story of the life of a very great man. The lessons of such a life and of that portion of the histories of his own and of this country, in which he played a part, tell themselves.
The importance of the command of the sea to the greatest maritime community, and the necessity of maintaining an efficient guard over the commerce of a State whose dominions lie in both hemispheres, are self-evident in any clear view of the life of de Ruyter.
* De Liefde's “ Famous Dutch Admirals," of which an English translation was published by Straban & Co., presupposes a general knowledge of incidents and dates in the reader which he occasionally does not possess, and is sadly wanting in dates and figures. It is now out of print.
Every care has been taken to give a fair picture of the great contest between the Dutch and English, and evidence on both sides has been duly sifted before an opinion has been given. Where doubt still exists, both stories are told.
To the writer's English and Dutch friends, he is much indebted for their kindly help in this and other matters relating to the work.
The name Holland, when used in these pages without the prefix or limitation of State, or Province, means the Seven United Provinces. When qualified as State, or Province, it refers only to the Province from which the whole country was eventually to take its name.