Going Down for Life

Franz Christoph Janneck (1703-1751): The Medical Alchemist

'In The Hague Weyerman visited the fake baron Johann Heinrich von Syberg. Syberg, a native of Magdeburg, claimed to possess the Philosopher’s Stone, with which he was able to make gold and cure the sick. Weyerman tried to strike a business deal with the German would-be baron, but he, too, was duped by the master fraud.

He proceeded to dedicate another periodical, Den kluyzenaar in een vrolyk humeur (1733), to Baron von Syberg with a pen dipped in venom. He was not the only one to see through the Baron’s fraudulent practices, but he was certainly one of the few able to turn Syberg’s deceit into a good story.

Weyerman must have realized he was on to something and published more works exposing the impostures of his former chum. De leevens byzonderheden van Johan Hendrik, baron van Syberg (1733) is a satirical pseudo-biography cautioning the reader against deceit and gullibility. Weyerman also targeted the alchemist Syberg in his play Den Maagdenburgsche alchimist (1733).'

'Weyerman again tried to launch a new periodical, but the public appears to have grown weary of him and he found it increasingly difficult to cash in on his satirical talent. Den adelaar (1735) crashed after no more than nine issues, while his Den Talmud ofte overzeldzaamen Joodsche vertellingen (1736) ceased to appear within less than two months.
At the age of 59 Weyerman enrolled for the second time as a student of medicine at the University of Leiden. He did not obtain a degree, and it is possible he never seriously embarked on this study. Matriculation brought with it certain advantages, and many would-be students enrolled only to be eligible for tax exemption – beer tax, for instance. Weyerman, unstoppable, ventured on a new periodical: De naakte waarheyt (1737), but he was forced to put out the light after twelve instalments.

In his satirical Piet fopt Jan en Jan fopt Piet, Weyerman lashed out at Jesuits and Jansenists alike. At the time he was living in the free town of Vianen to evade his debtors, where he made a big mistake and targeted a local worthy in his Verdeediging van Jakob Campo Weyerman tegens Alexander le Roux (1737). A very unwise decision, as will appear.'

'The next work to see the light of day was De zeldzaame leevens-byzonderheden van Laurens Arminius, Jakob Campo Weyerman, Robert Hennebo, Jakob Veenhuyzen (1738). Perhaps by this time he was so desperate for money that he was forced to exploit the adventures of his drinking cronies Arminius, Hennebo and Veenhuyzen. In his Voorlooper van de Kronyk der bankrotiers (1738), Weyerman also threatened to expose the band of swindlers who had sought refuge in Vianen. Again: not a wise move, as it reflected on the magistrates of the town of Vianen, who had granted domicile to these very bankrupts.

The consequences for Weyerman turned out to be sadly predictable. After having characterized Culemborg, another well-known harbour for bankrupts, as a robbers’ den, Weyerman was declared unwanted in that town. By then, however, several inhabitants of Culemborg had already been dragged through the mud. Weyerman next approached a few other prominent citizens of Culemborg, offering them the chance to buy off an entry in the forthcoming Kronyk with a handsome sum of money. Pure blackmail!'

'On 17 December 1738 the law caught up with Weyerman in Vianen. He managed to struggle free and clamber over a wall, but the sexagenarian author was soon overtaken, overpowered and clapped into irons. The report of his arrest was sent to the Court of Holland in The Hague. A few days later he was transferred to prison, the still existing Gevangenpoort, in The Hague.
On 9 July 1739 Weyerman was sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of blackmail and the wilful and calculated publication of injurious libels. A "crown witness" for the prosecution is his poem Enthusiasmus, containing many defamatory remarks against the governors of the East India Company.'


'Weyerman, ambassadeur der Labberlotten, vertoont zich voor
 het venster van de herberg 't Bokki in de Haarlemmerhout'
Cornelis Troost: De misleyden (coll. Rijksmuseum)