Dirk Kerckring: 17th Century douchebag

Behold, Theodor “Dirk” Kerckring. Son of Dutch East India Co. captain Dirk Kerckring and Margaretha Bas, the daughter of former Amsterdam Mayor Dirk Bas. Scion of wealth and privilege. Son of the republic. I want to punch that smirk right off his face.

I mean, look at him. That wanker can’t even manage to grow a proper moustache. And how can he be too young to grow a moustache yet have a receding hairline? And there he sits, with his bathrobe slouching off his shoulder as though … oops … it were some accident. What the hell is he pointing at with that stupid hand gesture? What’s up with his idiot globe? Those aren’t continents, moron. What are you doing?

Screw Dirck Kerckring. No, really.

Let the record show …

Ok, it’s out of my system now. It’s just that Dirk is in my novel, and he’s not a nice guy. Hey, for all I know, the historical Dirk Kerckring might have been a real mensch. I hope he was. But in my book? Well.

Dirk Kerckring by Dirk Ovens, 1660

But he’s what I can tell you about the historical man, beyond his parentage.

Kerckring studied at the Latin school of Franciscus van den Enden, a fascinating man in his own right who I’ll be writing about later. He was a student at the same time as Spinoza, and according to some historians who went hunting for drama, both he and Spinoza were rivals for the heart of their teacher’s daughter, Clara van den Enden.

Historically speaking, there’s little reason to think Spinoza was ever her suitor. For one, he never mentioned her that we know of. For two, The age difference would have made it, er, awkward. There was a 12-year difference between Spinoza and Clara, making her just about 12 when he started studying with her father. Kerckring, on the other hand, was just six years older than her, making the age difference a tad more feasible.

In any case, whether they were rivals or not, Kerckring did in fact win Clara’s hand in marriage. They wed in 1671, when she was 27 and he was 33. And Kerckring even went so far as to convert to Catholicism to make it happen. By then, Kerckring had studied medicine at the University of Leiden and become a doctor.

Dirck and Clara left Amsterdam around 1675 and wandered around Europe a bit, ending up in Hamburg in 1678.

Anatomically correct

So, why should anyone care about this dou…Dirk? Well, the last time you had a good, healthy meal and gained nutrition from it, your body did that because (in part) of something in your body named after this guy: the Kerckring valves. These mucus membranes slow down the progression of food through the small intestines, allowing nutrients to be absorbed by the body. Cool, right?

One of Kerckring’s medical illustrations. Cute!

Kerckring was primarily an anatomist. He did a lot of autopsies and poked around at embryos and wrote about them. For that, he was honored by having parts of our guts named after him. Also, a part of the skull, the Kerckring’s ossicles, bears his name.

A final note. Being an anatomist, Kerckring made use of special tools, such as scalpels and scales and clamps. He needed a good microscope, too. Microscopes were a new technology in his day, and optics was an exciting new field. Kerckring was known to use a microscope made by one Baruch Spinoza, lensmaker.