CATS, JACOB (1577–1660), Dutch poet and humorist, was born at Brouwershaven in Zeeland on the 10th of November 1577. Having lost his mother at an early age, and being adopted with his three brothers by an uncle, Cats was sent to school at Zierikzee. He then studied law at Leiden and at Orleans, and, returning to Holland, he settled at the Hague, where he began to practise as an advocate. His pleading in defence of a wretched creature accused of witchcraft brought him many clients and some reputation. He had a serious love affair about this time, which was broken off on the very eve of marriage by his catching a tertian fever which defied all attempts at cure for some two years. For medical advice and change of air Cats went to England, where he consulted the highest authorities in vain. He returned to Zeeland to die, but was cured mysteriously by a strolling quack. He married in 1602 a lady of some property, Elisabeth von Valkenburg, and thenceforward lived at Grypskerke in Zeeland, where he devoted himself to farming and poetry. His best works are: Emblemata or Minnebeelden with Maegdenplicht (1618); Spiegel van den ouden en nieuwen Tijt (1632); Houwelijck . . . (1625); Selfstrijt (1620); Ouderdom, Buitem leven . . . en Hofgedachten op Sorgvliet (1664); and Gedachten op slapelooze nachten (1661). In 1621, on the expiration of the twelve years’ truce with Spain, the breaking of the dykes drove him from his farm. He was made pensionary (stipendiary magistrate) of Middelburg; and two years afterwards of Dort. In 1627 Cats came to England on a mission to Charles I., who made him a knight. In 1636 he was made grand pensionary of Holland, and in 1648 keeper of the great seal; in 1651 he resigned his offices, but in 1657 he was sent a second time to England on what proved to be an unsuccessful mission to Cromwell. In the seclusion of his villa of Sorgvliet (Fly-from-Care), near the Hague, he lived from this time till his death, occupied in the composition of his autobiography (Eighty-two Years of My Life, first printed at Leiden in 1734) and of his poems. He died on the 12th of September 1660, and was buried by torchlight, and with great ceremony, in the Klooster-Kerk at the Hague. He is still spoken of as “Father Cats” by his countrymen.
Cats was contemporary with Hooft and Vondel and other distinguished Dutch writers in the golden age of Dutch literature, but his Orangist and Calvinistic opinions separated him from the liberal school of Amsterdam poets. He was, however, intimate with Constantin Huygens, whose political opinions were more nearly in agreement with his own. For an estimate of his poetry see Dutch Literature. Hardly known outside of Holland, among his own people for nearly two centuries he enjoyed an enormous popularity. His diffuseness and the antiquated character of his matter and diction, have, however, come to be regarded as difficulties in the way of study, and he is more renowned than read. A statue to him was erected at Brouwershaven in 1829.
See Jacob Cats, Complete Works (1790–1800, 19 vols.), later editions by van Vloten (Zwolle, 1858–1866; and at Schiedam, 1869–1870); Pigott, Moral Emblems, with Aphorisms, &c., from Jacob Cats (1860); and P. C. Witsen Gejisbek, Het Leven en de Verdiensten van Jacob Cats (1829). Southey has a very complimentary reference to Cats in his “Epistle to Allan Cunningham.”