On an ordinary day in July, Niels Feitsma (51), a historian and bibliophile, went grocery shopping. As he was about to dispose of his recyclables outside the supermarket, something caught his attention, and he came to a sudden halt.
“By the recycling container, you often find litter,” he explains. “Mattresses, children’s toys, shattered glass… and then suddenly, I spotted two large banana boxes filled with books. What initially drew my attention was a thick, lavishly illustrated book about parrots.”
Inside the boxes there were also art and history books and several others that appeared interesting. Intrigued, Feitsma fetched his car and brought the boxes of books home to examine them more closely, hoping to discover something valuable within.
An ancient, slim volume of poetry by the renowned Limburg poet Pierre Kemp (1886 – 1967) didn’t initially appear remarkable.
“But then, in the front, I noticed a handwritten dedication to one Frederique Kox,” Feitsma explains. “It was entirely legible, and the page bore the author’s signature. That’s when I thought… what precisely is this?”
While he didn’t know who Kemp was, an internet search led him to the Pierre Kemp Stichting, and he promptly contacted the foundation to share his discovery.
At the foundation, there was immediate excitement over this find and gratitude towards Feitsma for saving the book from destruction. While other copies of “De bruid der onbekende zee” (Maastricht, 1916) still exist, the dedication inside this book holds great value. The dedication is a lyrical meditation in the form of a previously undiscovered poem dedicated to the enigmatic Frederique Kox, who was likely one of Kemp’s muses.
“We know that Kemp had a keen interest in women, intellectual women, and that they inspired him,” says Emeritus Professor Wiel Kusters, Kemp’s biographer and chairman of the Pierre Kemp Stichting.
What truly makes the book precious is the discovery of a poem that nobody knew existed.
“This is a poem of which we were unaware. A long poem that could easily have been included in one of his collections, but I’ve never come across it before. In his own handwriting, it’s something very special for Kemp’s readers and for literary history. It’s a lovely discovery,” says Kusters.
The identity of the mysterious Frederique Kox remains unknown to the foundation, but it is widely known that Kemp had many muses, and his poems were inspired by young women he encountered during his daily train journey between his hometown of Maastricht and his work in Eygelshoven.
Although Kemp was married and had three children, it was these women, with their enchanting presence, who served as a wellspring of inspiration for the poet. It was in the confined space of the train compartments that Kemp’s poetic musings were influenced by the fleeting connections and sometimes flirtatious exchanges that unfolded.
“Kemp was romantically old-fashioned, giving one of his books with a dedication to the women he came into contact with in one way or another to make an impression on them,” says Kusters. “I don’t know if we’ll ever find out who this woman was…”
According to Kusters, it would be interesting to trace her descendants and learn who she was and how she and Kemp crossed paths.
If you are connected to Frederique Kox, or have knowledge of her descendants, connect with us by filling in the form at the bottom of this page in our quest to unravel this intriguing mystery and unveil her story.
The precious book has since been handed over to the Maastricht University Library, where it is kept in the library’s Special Collections. These contain a vast array of Kemp’s work, including many letters and manuscripts.
According to Odin Essers, curator of the Special Collections, this book is truly exceptional.
“It is absolutely an unusual find. The historical value is in the dedication, and also the fact that the book contains unopened pages.”
Essers explains that books consist of large sheets that are folded and bound together to form sections, the basic building block of codex bindings In 1916 when this poetry book was printed, the leaves still had to be opened with a paper-knife.
“They had to be opened by the new owner, but apparently, his muse never opened the pages (to read it).”
While Frederique Kox’s identity may remain elusive, this discovery adds a new chapter to the legacy of Pierre Kemp, a poet whose words continue to inspire and enchant. The mystery surrounding this dedication and its connection to Kemp’s life invites further exploration, reminding us of the enduring allure of literature and history.
Ik heb een tip van de zon zien blinken op de lippen van een jonge vrouw.
Dit heeft mij weer met den dag verzoend.
Ik zou haar misschien mogen beminnen, indien ik het zou kunnen willen.
Het is zoo gemakkelijk lief te hebben wanneer het leven en de verlangens aan beide zijden van de tafel tikken als twee gelijke klokken.
Maar wanneer er iets tusschen twee geliefden is gestorven en de stijl van het leven hen verbindt tot den dood; wanneer zelfs de herinnering aan de schoone dagen, door hen niet meer kan worden bemind, dan is dat verdere samenzijn een durenden doodendans.
Dan kwijnt de ziel en schuwt het licht en sluit zij zich op in de eenzaamheid van haar smart, tot zij een tip van de zon ziet blinken op de lippen van een jonge vrouw, die zij niet mag beminnen.
Maar dat kleine, schrijnende geluk maakt haar gul en zij schenkt het boek van haar verlangens en haar lijden weg aan die het kunnen begrijpen en medevoelen, gelijk ik dit boek schenk aan U.
We need your help
Maastricht University Library stimulates, supports and facilitates the use of UM’s Special Collections and the thoughtful integration of digital technology to advance education and research. Think about how using these books can add value to some of your courses. If you want to know more about how we can support you, contact curator Odin Essers via Ask your librarian. Follow the Special Collections on social media: Maastricht University Special Collections (@specialcollectionsumlibrary) | Instagram or Special Collections – Maastricht.
If you are connected to Frederique Kox, or have knowledge of her descendants, connect with us in our quest to unravel this intriguing mystery and unveil her story.