'Beschryvinge der stadt Utrecht' by Cornelis Booth

Wandering the streets of Utrecht around 1650

Monogram uit Beschryvinghe der stadt Utrecht uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteit Utrecht

Cornelis Booth (1605-1678) was a man of many trades. In Utrecht he was councillor, physician, historian and librarian. Yet only one of his works has appeared in print: the Beschryvinge der stadt Utrecht (‘Description of the city of Utrecht’). It is a remarkable piece of work, not only for its contents, but also for the reasons it was written and the ways in which it was promoted. A versatile work from a versatile man.

Prologue: the two views of Utrecht

In 1598 silversmith and engraver Adam van Vianen made the oldest known city profiles of Utrecht (known under the title Aertsbisdom Utrecht (‘Archbishopric of Utrecht’). Besides a city plan of Utrecht, the Utrecht ‘skyline’ is shown from both the west and the east. The city council paid Van Vianen 112 Dutch pounds for the copper plate with which the maps were printed. When his grandson, also named Adam, wanted to republish the map in 1650, he needed the city council’s permission. It was granted by means of a decree dated 22 December 1651 as is recorded on the reprint.

Van Vianen, Saftleven and Booth

Monogram uit Beschryvinghe der stadt Utrecht uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteit Utrecht

The 1651 decree states that Van Vianen is only allowed to use his grandfather’s copper plate if he links it to the description of the city by councillor Booth which was already published in 1648 together with the city plan by Saftleven. Herman Hermansz. Saftleven (1609-1685) was a painter, artist and engraver whose city plan from 1648 is lost, as is the adjoining earliest edition of Booth’s Beschryvinge der stadt Utrecht. The earliest version of the second edition of the text is housed in the Utrecht University Library. It is a remarkable copy.

Two versions

So, by decree of the city council the 1651/1652 reprint of Van Vianen’s map was joined together with Booth’s Beschryvinge der stadt Utrecht. The Utrecht University Library holds two versions of this edition:

1) a version without titlepage, with appendix but without the map (S fol 1525);
2) a version with titlepage, without appendix but with a loose map (Kaart: VIII. B.h.1).

Design of the Beschryvinge

Pagina uit Beschryvinghe der stadt Utrecht uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteit Utrecht

In the case of the version without the map the text of the Beschryvinge consists of twelve numbered sheets without a title page. However, it also contains an extensive appendix consisting of three parts. The first part is an essay about Den Toll op de riviere de Vecht (‘The toll on the river Vecht’), which includes seven copies of imperial charters (one from 953, three from 975, two from 1122 and one from 1125). It also contains prints of the monograms of the emperors Otto I, Otto II and Hendrik V, followed by a copy of the Middle Dutch charter of bishop Jan van Diest from 1328, with reproductions of two seals. Finally, there are three numbered pages with the text of the Land-brief van Utrecht, de Ao, M CCC LXXV (‘Landletter of Utrecht of the year 1375’). It is remarkable that all the texts are printed on one side of the page, with the exception of the charters of Hendrik V, which have been printed double-sided and on thicker paper, and the Landbrief.

A printer’s proof

As it is printed on one side, it appears that we deal here with a printer’s proof of the Beschryvinge, without a map. In the case of the 953 charter and the last one from 1122 handwritten corrections have been added. At the end of the Landbrief there is a reference to de voorgaende corte beschryvinge der stadt fo. 5, (‘the previous description of the city folio 5’).There can be no mistake that it is in Booth’s handwriting. Booth apparently regarded the actual Beschryvinge and the appendix as one, although they are quite different in design.

A second printer’s proof?

Zegels uit Beschryvinghe der stadt Utrecht uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteit Utrecht

The version without the map (S fol 1525) is bound in a later period, and it is likely that the sheets were delivered in loose sections as was the standard fashion. This is at least how it is done in the version with Van Vianen’s map (Kaart: VIII. B.h.1), although it came loose at a later stage. In this version, however, all the sheets are printed on both sides. The text only comprises the actual Beschryvinge and the Landbrief, the rest of the appendix is missing. Booth’s correction at the end of the Landbrief in S fol 1525 has not been entered. In any case, the map is a printer’s proof, and it may be that we are dealing with a second proof or a separate print, before the final product went to press. The question if that actually took place is difficult to answer, because copies of the 1651/1652 edition are very rare.

Booth’s text

For the modern reader the Beschryvinge provides a curious mixture of historical essay and tourist guide. Utrecht, een seer oude, vermaerde ende heerlijcke Stadt,(‘Utrecht, a very old, famous and lovely town’) is how Booth begins his short history. On fol. 6 he describes the physical qualities of the town, and mentions that it takes an hour and a half to walk around the town walls and canals. Those who are familiar with the streets of Utrecht are well able to follow Booth’s description and are guided along, for instance, ‘Sinte Cathrijnen’, ‘Tollestege’, ‘Pijlsweerd’, and ‘Palemaillebaan’, (Maliebaan), still in existence today.

Trip to the countryside

Outside the town one finds ooft-rijcke Boomgaerden, genoeglicke Hoven en bequame wegen (‘fruitful orchards, pleasant gardens and comfortable roads’). Het omleggende Land is seer vruchtbaer en plaisant (‘The surrounding land is very fertile and pleasant’) with vette Weyden (‘juicy pastures’) which supply overvloedige lijf-neeringe (food in abundance). Booth goes on to describe the churches and buildings in the town, and sums up the many manor houses. He sees them as een hoogh-achtbaer teecken van de oude deftigheyd, ende deftige oudheydt deser Stadt (‘a respectable sign of old gentility and of the stately age of this city’). Utrecht is a pleasant city, a comfortable place to be and a good point of departure. You can visit one of the sixty walled cities in the neighbourhood and be back in time to enjoy a good night’s sleep. Utrecht’s got it!

University and library

Monogram from Beschryvinghe der stadt Utrecht

Finally Booth remarks that the facilities in Utrecht are geared to de aen-comelingen ende meerderjarige in de nieuwe Universiteyt ofte Academie (‘the first-year students and the older students in the new university or academy’). But he saves his deepest respect for the publijcke Bibliotheque (‘public library’) with such an ample ende heerlijcke voor-raed van Boecken… dat diergelijke niet alleen in Neder-landt, maar oock in vele Vorstendommen ende Rijcken noyt gesien is (‘ample and lovely supply of books, that its equal is not be seen, neither in the Netherlands nor in other principalities and realms’).

Promoting the city

The last remark is far from impartial, because Booth describes his own work place. He was the first librarian of the city library (later university library) which was then housed in the Janskerk. His lyrical prose is meant to attract students, scholars, tourists, noblemen and citizens to Utrecht. Linking his text to the maps of Utrecht by Saftleven en Van Vianen is a fine example of city marketing at about 1650. It is clear that the city council commissioned Booth to write his Beschryvinge (without the appendix) and as an (amateur) historian he was well suited to do the job.

With and without appendix

Pagina uit Beschryvinghe der stadt Utrecht uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteit Utrecht

The printer’s proof shows that the map by Saftleven of 1648 contained the text of the Beschryvinge but not the appendix. Probably the text was put below the map, as was the case with the city profile that Saftleven made in 1669 for 250 guilders by order of the city council and which he printed for 74 guilders. An example of this is housed in The Utrecht Archives, catalogue number 27512, which shows the updated edition of 1684. The city profile and the Beschryvinge appear on one large poster, meant to promote Utrecht as a city. Such wall-maps with description were also made of other cities. The 1651/1652 edition has a somewhat different approach. The map and the profiles of Utrecht by Van Vianen were quite outdated by then, and that may be why a more historical approach was preferred in which the Beschryvinge in book form is linked to copies of historical sources, again emphasizing the deftige oudheydt (‘stately age’) of Utrecht. No other city in the Dutch Republic could boast such an illustrious past. But perhaps in the final version the historical appendix (apart from the Landbrief) was considered inappropriate and was hence left out.

The new edition of 1685

Very few copies of the second edition of the Beschryvinge survive, and it is not clear how many copies were printed. In 1685 it was published again and also of this version the Utrecht University Library has a copy. This time Juriaen van Poolsum was responsible for the publication. He is called Ordinaris Stadts Drucker, woonende op de Plaets, recht tegen over het Stadthuys (‘Ordained city printer, living on the square, right opposite the city hall’). Again we find the unchanged text of the Beschryvinge, but this time without the appendix – even the Landbrief is lacking. However, the promotional aspect was kept, as is shown by the three folded maps added: the old map by Van Vianen, and two maps with the city’s development schemes, by Hendrick Moreelse from 1664, and from Everard Meyster from 1670.

The plans of Moreelse and Meyster

Pagina uit Beschryvinghe der stadt Utrecht uit de Bijzondere Collecties van de Universiteit Utrecht

In 1664 Hendrick Moreelse (1615-66) launched his development schemes for the city of Utrecht. To this end he not only published his Deductie, but also a map titled T’ concept vande plat grondighe afbeeldingh des oude en niwe stadt Utrecht anno 1664 (‘The concept of the ground plan of the old and the new city in the year 1664’) (Kaart: *VIII*.B.h.8). Bottom left is a four-line poem by nobleman Everard Meyster (1617-1679), the founder of country estate Oog in Al. After the death of Moreelse, Meyser further elaborated his plans, and published them in the pamphlet Gerymde bedenckingh of ontwerp, om Utrecht op sijn schoonste, en sterrikst te vergrooten (‘Thought or concept in rhyme to enlarge Utrecht as beautifully and as strongly as possible’). The companion map of 1670 shows an outer canal around Utrecht. The development plan did not meet with enough response of the city council, something which Meyster anticipated because on the left side of the map he had added: Wat baet het bril aanbien [aanbieden], als men dogh niet wil sien (‘Why offer glasses if one refuses to see’).

Epilogue: the afterlife of the Beschryvinge

All kinds of people had used the Beschryvinge to their own ends, and their names can be found among the modern handwritten notes on the first two pages of the printer’s proof. On these pages we find references to the resolutions by the city council about several maps of Utrecht. In 1715 the Beschryvinge was reprinted, in 1729 included in the Groot Utrechtsch Placaatboek (vol. 3, p. 1-4), and in 1745 added to the second edition of the Stichtse Cleyne Chronicke by J.F. van Cortgeen van der Gouwe. He is the first to mention Cornelis Booth as the author. At that time, de Beschryvinge had become a historical text rather than a promotional one. Finally the text, as it was added to the Stichtse Cleyne Chronicke, was published again in 1985. The text was set up in type again and 150 copies were printed on the Victoria press of Utrecht University Library (AF V 21). How pleased Cornelis Booth as first librarian of the Utrecht University Library would have been if he knew that his work was published there for the last time!

Author: Bart Jaski, 2012