M2: Unit 2 – Preface 1

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Preface 1: Nahuijs 1868

Max Havelaar was published a few years ago, and caused such a sensation in Holland as was never before experienced in that country. The author wrote it under the pseudonym of Multatuli, but his real name, Eduard Douwes Dekker, formerly Assistant Resident of the Dutch Government in Java, at once became known. Full of fire, and overflowing with enthusiasm, the author presented it to his countrymen in the form of a novel, – a book wherein he made them acquainted with the incredible extortions and tyranny of which the natives of the Dutch Indies […] are the victims, and how he tried in vain, while still in the service of the Government, to put an end to the cruel oppressions that happen every day in those countries. Though some considered his book to be merely an interesting and captivating novel, the author maintained that it contained nothing but facts. He boldly asked the Dutch Government to prove the substance of his book to be false, but its truth has never been disputed. […] Not a single fact was ever contested  in Holland, and he is still ready to prove his statements. In the Dutch Parliament nobody answered a single word, but Mr. Van Twist, ex-Governor-General of the Dutch Indies, who, on being appealed to by the Baron Van Hoevell, said that he could perhaps refute Max Havelaar, but that it was not his interest to do so.

The book proves that what was formerly written in Uncle Tom’s Cabin of the cruelties perpetrated upon the slaves in America, is nothing in comparison to what happens every day in the Dutch Indies. […]

So much for the tendency of the book. Need I say that it will do honour to the literature of any language, and that it may be read as well for profit as for amusement? But Max Havelaar is immortal, not because of literary art or talent, but because of the cause he advocates. I think that every one who admires Harriet Beecher Stowe’s immortal pleading, ought likewise to read Multatuli’s accusation. I compare Max Havelaar to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but I do not compare Multatuli, the champion and the martyr of humanity and justice, to Mrs. Stowe, for I am not aware that that lady, with all her merits, has sacrificed future fortune, and all that makes life agreeable, for a principle – for right and equity – as has been done by Eduard Douwes Dekker. Max Havelaar bears evidence of having been written by a genius of that order which only appears at long intervals in the world’s history. His mind embraces in its intellectual compass all mankind, regardless of race  or caste. By the diffusion of this book a bond will be formed embracing all lovers of genius and justice throughout the world.

It was the intention of the author to have had his work translated into all the European languages. Unfortunately he unwittingly disposed of the property of his own book, and had it not thus been ‘legally’ withheld from the people of Holland, it is probable that I should not have been its translator; but I have been constrained to make known as widely as possible the sad truth regarding the mal-administration of laws in themselves good, by the Dutch Government in her Indian dependencies. To the British nation the facts will be new, as the books published in England on Dutch India are few in number, superficial in character, and give no idea of the conditions of the native population. I cannot judge of English politics or about British India, but however perfect British rule may be, it cannot be so perfect that it has nothing more to learn.


The Hague, January 17, 1868.