Many artists engaged in the design of books from the end of the 19th century onwards and at the beginning of the 20th century the first private presses emerged in the Netherlands. The poet P.C. Boutens (1870-1943) was a link between the two; he had fine editions made at his own expense which he subsequently sold to book lovers for a lot of money.
One of Boutens’ rarest fine editions is Naenia, which was printed in 1903 by Joh. Enschedé en Zonen. According to the colophon only twelve copies of this small volume were printed, but a recent search of the archives suggests that perhaps there were fourteen copies.
Naenia – the title means ‘funeral song’ or ‘elegy’ – contains an obituary and an elegy for the ‘jonkheer’ [young lord] Willem van Tets, one of Boutens’ pupils who had died of meningitis at the age of fifteen in 1900.
Naenia is printed on Van Gelder ‘Hollandsch papier’. It is bound in vellum, a historic font was used (the Augustijn No. 28) and the little volume contains two hand-drawn initials by the artist Jan Toorop.
From the extant correspondence between the author and publisher, Boutens’ intense concern with this publication is apparent. The last line of the third stanza of the ‘In memoriam’ reads ‘Ons adem keert uit U in angstgefluister’ [Our breath returns from You in whispering fear]. Firstly, according to Boutens, this line had been hit by an ‘unbearable printing error’: the word ‘u’ had been omitted. Then something else went wrong. Boutens wrote in a letter to Enschedé ‘The inserted ‘U’ should be a small one [lower case] and not a capital. If you still have the type standing, I would like to see this changed.’ But the type had already been distributed, and the specially ordered paper had all been used up because so many proofs had been printed.
Thus, one of the rarest fine books in Dutch literature still has a small flaw.