Alexander Ver Huell, illustrator > The nineteenth-century student

Art first sight, university life at the time Ver Huell studied in Leiden between approximately 1840 and 1848 would appear to be quite different from what it is nowadays . But there are also similarities. As a rule, in Ver Huell’s time, students had well-to-do parents, who provided them with a liberal allowance. Of course, students also had to use part of that money to pay the landlady for their rooms. In his famous Studententypen, the humorist Klikspaan gives the following striking description of students: ‘Student, sovereign in a realm without bounds, freest of all free creatures, richest of the rich, because of his incredible credit, creature standing outside creation, for whom the sun does not make the day, nor the darkness make the night! For him, his cap is the Phrygian bonnet, the cap of liberty, his cane Hercules’ club, his servant a helot, only worthy to lick the mire from his defiled boots!

View of the University building on Rapenburg. Litho (in colour) by G.J. Bos. From: Leyden in Miniatuur (ca 1850)

In fact, students led a life of luxury, more often than not bathing in champagne. There was a big gap between them and the ‘ordinary’ people. They regulary went to parties that lasted the whole night. Because of excessive drinking, such parties ended all too often in a scuffle with other students, sometimes from neighbouring cities, Delft for example. Trips to other countries were not uncommon among students: the old man forked out. Alexander Ver Huell’s own trips included Paris and destinations in Germany; he went on some of these trips with his friend Jan Kneppelhout.

Students in the Sociëteit Minerva on Breestraat (1832)

Nevertheless, besides making merry and enjoying themselves, some students were interested in serious academic matters as well. Through his writings, Jan Kneppelhout tried to reform university life in Leiden: in his opinion, the university needed to adapt itself to the demands of modern times. He made this quite clear in his books, giving professors a good dressing down, and Ver Huell’s caricatural drawings completed the text with unmistakable illustrations.

Read more: Ver Huell in Leiden

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