Hendrik Van Loon

Journalist and award-winning children’s book author. Most widely known among these is The Story of Mankind, a history of the world especially for children, which won the first Newbery Medal in 1922.

Henrik Van Loon’s first three books carried a Dutch historical theme. Two themes that recurred in these drawings were the Dutch galleon in full sail and the steeple hatted Dutchman in leather breeches, who appeared as the type figure in many of them. Drawings that a young Fitzgerald, always keen on History, may have seen. Van Loon wrote The Fall of the Dutch Republic, (1913), The Rise of the Dutch Kingdom, 1915, The Golden Book of the Dutch Navigators, 1916,  A Short History of Discovery: From the Earliest Times to the Founding of Colonies in the American Continent, 1917, Ancient Man; the Beginning of Civilizations, 1920, The Story of Mankind (1921). Many of his very popular books were aimed at young adults and illustrated by himself. Fitzgerald was an avid history buff to the extent he played with tin soldiers and kept pictures of mutilated WWI soldiers as a precious possession. 

The ending of The Great Gatsby may have been influenced by another work. “And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams…and as I sat there, brooding on the old unknown world…”

Fitzgerald’s editor, Maxwell Perkins, stated “We had a good many literary evenings …inviting Hendrik Van Loon”. Count Miklós Károlyi de Nagykároly,  Hungary’s leader and later  Prime Minister, was a guest of Van Loon’s in Westport as well as Ignacio Zuloaga, a Spanish painter He is considered to be one of the most important Spanish painters from the end of the 19th Century and beginnings of the 20th Century. Another guest was Margaret Wycherly, a British actress probably best remembered as The Mother in her two best-known roles, Sergeant York (1941) opposite Gary Cooper and White Heat (1949) opposite James Cagney who closes out the film screaming “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” as he goes to a fiery death. Actress  Pauline Lord and Peggy Wood – also a member of the Algonquin Round Table – also lent glamour to the Van Loon home.

In the last year of his life, Fitzgerald was still referring to Van Loon “ [ How To Read, a book that came out that year] “is the biggest fake since Van Loon Art”(published in 1937) and in a later letter “Artists spilt blood over Van Loons History of the Arts”.

VWB, Days of the Phoenix p. 382.





FSF On Author, 185,186.

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