The last years of the 18th century, which had seen decline in the Republic, including the arts and international politics, were marked by a general revival of intellectual force. The romantic movement in Germany made itself deeply felt in all branches of Dutch literature and German lyricism took the place hitherto held by French classicism, in spite of the country falling to French expansionalism (see also History of the Netherlands).
Against this backdrop, the most prominent writer was Willem Bilderdijk (1756–1831), an intellectual and intelligent man whose outspoken and eccentric worldview was partly caused by an illness during his adolescence that kept him indoors for ten years. Once recovered he lived a busy, eventful life, writing great quantities of verse; in 1809 he started writing the work he designed to be his masterpiece, the epic De Ondergang der Eerste Wereld ("The Destruction of the First World"), which remained unfinished and appeared as a fragment only in 1820.
Bilderdijk had no time for the new romantic style of poetry, but its fervour found its way into the Netherlands nevertheless, and first of all in the person of Hiëronymus van Alphen (1746–1803). Van Alphen is best remembered for the verses he wrote for children, which are still taught in kindergartens all over the country. Van Alphen was an exponent of the more sentimental school along with Rhijnvis Feith (1753–1824), whose romances are steeped in Weltschmerz.
In Hendrik Tollens (1780–1856) some the power of Bilderdijk and the sweetness of Feith were combined. He is best known for celebrating the great deeds of Dutch history in a series of lyrical romances. Today, Tollens is best known for his poem "Wien Neêrlands Bloed" ("To Those in Whom Dutch Blood Flows Through the Veins"), a nationalistic effort that, set to music, was the Dutch national anthem until 1932, when it was superseded by Marnix' "Wilhelmus". A poet of considerable talent, whose powers were awakened by personal intercourse with Tollens and his followers, was Antoni Christiaan Wijnandt Staring (1767–1840). Staring first published at the age of fifty-three only, but continued to write till past his seventieth year. His poems are a blend of romanticism and rationalism.
During this period, the Low Countries had gone through major political upheaval. The Spanish Netherlands had first become the Austrian Netherlands before being annexed by France in 1794. The Republic, which had become a de facto monarchy in 1747 when the office of stadtholder became hereditary to the House of Orange-Nassau, saw a revolution inspired and backed by France that led to the Batavian Republic and Kingdom of Holland vassal states before actual French annexation in 1810. This transition period removed many old habits and institutions and provided for unitary government, the first constitution (1798) and uniform orthography (Matthias Siegenbeek's spelling).
After Napoleon's downfall in the Southern Netherlands village of Waterloo, the northern and southern provinces were briefly united as the United Kingdom of the Netherlands; this period lasted until 1830 only, when the southern provinces seceded to form Belgium. This period had little influence in literature, and in the new state of Belgium, the status of the Dutch language remained largely unchanged as all governmental and educational affairs were conducted in French.
In scientific and religious literature men of letters showed themselves cognizant of the newest shades of opinion, and freely ventilated their ideas. The language resisted the pressure of German from the outside, and from within broke through its long stagnation and enriched itself, as a medium for literary expression, with a multitude of fresh and colloquial forms. At the same time, no very great genius arose in the Netherlands in any branch of literature. For the thirty or forty years preceding 1880 the course of literature in Holland was smooth and even sluggish. The Dutch writers had slipped into a conventionality of treatment and a strict limitation of form from which even the most striking talents among them could scarcely escape.