On September 5th, 2018, in the presence of His Excellency, Mr Edgar Elias Azar, the Ambassador of Mexico, who opened the forum introducing the exhibition by referring to the intellectual history of The Netherlands, an exhibition on Hugo Grotius was opened; the expo, presented in collaboration with the Peace Palace Library, was mounted till October 10th, 2018. The key note speaker at the occasion was Professor Henk Nellen, the most well-known scholar and biographer of Hugo Grotius.

Professor Henk Nellen described Hugo Grotius’ intellectual personality, his undogmatic articulation on Christian morality, opening up to a broad specter of believers, for the social cohesion in society. Grotius was an elitist conservative, pleading for the prevention of insubordination against the government and turmoil within the community, advocating strong government measures to enforce tolerance.

Professor Henk Nellen divided Hugo Grotius’ life in two parts: as a scholar and working for the Oldenbarnevelt administration, orally and in writing defending the government’s policy of tolerance for the less austere variant of Calvinism, Arminianism, which should be allowed a right of existence inside the Dutch Reformed Church, a policy utterly that failed in the turbulent years 1618-1619, when Grotius’ Dutch career brusquely came to a standstill, after which he was imprisoned and thereafter he eventually lived in exile, as Swedish ambassador at the French King’s court.

Hugo Grotius’ literary genius was explained by Professor Henk Nellen, and how Hugo Grotius developed as a staunch defender of the government’s authority, and what his irenic and ethical religious writings were about. Of Course he also elaborated upon Hugo Grotius’ legal scholarship; De Jure Belli ac Pacis (“On the Laws of War and Peace”)  , published in 1625 by a Paris printer, Nicholas Buon, can be described as an attempt, firstly to reduce the catalogue of justified grounds for initiating war, and secondly, to mitigate hostilities, once against all hopes armed conflict had broken out, but in Grotius’ view, the aim of war should always be to protect the law and restore peace. Before addressing Grotius’ afterlife, Henk Nellen took the audience to the alleged famous last words: ‘though I attempted much, I achieved nothing’.

Jeroen Vervliet , Peace Palace Library Director and curator of the rare books collection, closed by describing how the Hugo Grotius-collection at the Library came into being. The bookseller Wouter Nijhoff donated his personal 55 editions of ‘De Jure Belli ac Pacis’   to the Peace Palace Library at the opening of the Peace Palace in 1913. This gift has set, of course, an obligation to ever expand the collection, now comprising more than 1250 books by Hugo Grotius. This work was mainly conducted by Dr Jacob ter Meulen, Peace Palace Library Director (1924-1952), who also created the world-famous History of International Law-collection at the Peace Palace Library.

The ceremony ended by giving the 50 attendees, amongst whom many (Hispanophone) Ambassadors and dignitaries from international organs in The Hague, the opportunity to visit the exhibition. Wonderful delicious Mexican snacks were served. The Peace Palace Library expresses its gratitude to the Embassy of Mexico in The Hague for having received such a marvelous outreach to the ‘corps diplomatique’ in the city of peace and justice.

By J. Vervliet


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