'Diarium' by Aernout van Buchell

Old diaries renewed

Portrait of Arnoldus Buchelius

In the Renaissance writing personal histories became common practice among scholars and gentlemen. Diaries, travel accounts, memoirs or autobiographies were sometimes even printed and published. One of the earliest and most prolific writers whose main subject was himself was Aernout van Buchell or Arnoldus Buchelius (1565-1641). In many ways, his Diarium is a remarkable ego document, not only for its contents and illustrations but also for its genesis.

Buchelius as a scholarly recluse

Aernout van Buchell, or Arnoldus Buchelius (1565-1641), is a classic example of the scholar who, above all else, values the peace and quiet of his study; preferring it to academic or public functions, active participation in social life, or any drive to appear in print. Being a man of some means, he devoted himself to his beloved historical, archaeological and genealogical researches, particularly after the death of his only son in 1611, which affected him greatly. His work mainly involved compiling inventories and examining details, and was sometimes fragmentary in nature. Ever prepared to let others share in his knowledge, he maintained friendly relations with contemporary scholars and sympathisers. He exchanged regular correspondence with Caspar Barlaeus, his relatives Everardus en Adolphus Vorstius and his childhood friend Johannes de Witt; but also with scholars such as Gerardus Vossius, Anna Maria van Schurman, Petrus Scriverius, Johannes van Beverwijk, Josephus Scaliger, Janus Gruterus, Daniel Heinsius and Gisbertus Voetius

Travel and career

After his preparatory education at the Hieronymus School in Utrecht, Buchelius studied in Leiden for a short time. In 1581 he departed for Douai, where he spent eighteen months studying law. From there he travelled on to Paris, where he came into contact with many scholars, including Jean Dorat. In 1587-1588 he took a journey to Italy, via Germany, which he would remember all his life. After having filled a number of secretarial posts, which were of short duration, he finished law in Leiden in 1593 and began practicing in Utrecht, still taking time to pursue his studies. He married Klaasje van Voorst in the same year. Apart from a spell as an administrator of the Dutch East India Company (1619-1620) and – after his conversion to Protestantism around 1591 – a period as a church elder, he never again engaged in public office.

The Diarium

Commentarius rerum quotidianarum …, beter bekend als het Diarium ('Dagboek').

Buchelius' best-known work, which was first printed and published as late as the nineteenth century, is his Commentarius rerum quotidianarum ... ('Commentary on daily matters ...'), better known as Diarium ('Diary'). The two stout volumes – part autobiography, part chronicle – were written between 1593 and 1600 as a fair copy, and were regularly corrected and supplemented until about 1625. Some small notebooks (rapiaria), one of which has been preserved (Ms. 761), served as the basis for the finished product. The notes begin in 1560 and continue until their abrupt end in 1599. Buchelius described his journey to Cologne in a separate manuscript (Ms. 762), smaller in size (see Keussen 1908, 90-114). Hij writes the Latin of his time, which is not always easy to follow.

Format of the Diarium

Buchelius' eyewitness accounts and stories are written in a direct and true-to-life manner, and report on the most varied events in Utrecht, the Republic and Europe; alternating with genealogical notes and topographies of towns and descriptions of monuments which he visited during his travels. Dozens of coloured-in pen-drawings of monuments, antiques, coins, weapons and townscapes illustrate the text. Thanks to Buchelius' lively style and his eye for detail, everyday facts, minutiae and conditions that were not recorded in any other way have been preserved for posterity. The reader sometimes has a sense of glimpsing daily life as it was during the birth and growth of the Republic. Both volumes of the Diarium have been transcribed by Kees Smit, in an edition of 1032 pages, with a description, indices and over 2400 footnotes.

Contents of the Diarium, part 1

Fol. 1-3: Poem, title and introduction, dated M.D.XXCIIIX A.D.XIII KAL. DECEMB. by which is probably meant 20 November 1593 (and not 1587 when Buchelius was still in Italy) (ed. Brom & Van Langeraad 1907, 3-6).

Fol. 4-52: Description of Utrecht, heralded by the words A patria urbe, quae mihi vitae simul et peregrinationis initium dedit exordiar (‘I start my text with the father’s city which has given me the beginning of my life and also my (life’s) journey’) (ed. Muller 1906). For a transcription and translation into Dutch, see the website of Utrechtse Kronieken (Utrecht Chronicles).

Fol. 53-140r: Events 1560-January 1584, starting with Diarium ab anno Crist. M.D.L.X. (ed. Brom & Van Langeraad 1907 7-93).

Fol 140r-157v: Travel to and study in Douai, February 1584-June 1585 (ed. Brom & Van Langeraad 1907, 93-120; French translation De Warenghien 1904).

Fol. 158r-209r: Journey to and stay in Paris, June 1585-May 1586 (ed. Brom & Van Langeraad 1907, 120-134; French translation Vidier 1900).

Fol. 209r-215r: Events in Utrecht, May 1586-April 1587 (ed. Brom & Van Langeraad 1907, 134-146).

Fol 215r-256v: Journey through Germany, May-October 1587 (ed. Brom & Van Langeraad 1907, 146-158; German translation Keussen 1907).

Fol. 257r-275r: Notes on history, mainly chronological lists of Utrecht magistrates, up to Buchelius’ own days (unedited).

Image of the town of Arnhem, fol 111r from Ms. 798-I

Contents of the Diarium part 2

Fol. 1-91r: Journey through Italy (Iter Italicum), October 1587-April 1588, with visits to Pavia, Venice, Rome, Naples, Siena and Florence (see De Jong 2002 and 2010; De Jong & Kemper 2009 and 2012) (ed. Lanciani 1901, compare Brom & Van Langeraad 1907, 158-169).

Fol. 91r-95v: The return journey through Germany, April-July 1588 (ed. Brom & Van Langeraad 1907, 169-174).

Fol. 95v-148r: Events in Utrecht and the Low Countries, July 1588-May 1591 (ed. Brom & Van Langeraad 1907, 174-292).

Fol. 148v-163v: Journey through Germany, May-November 1591 (ed. Brom & Van Langeraad 1907, 292-304; German translation Keussen 1908, 43-90).

Fol. 163v-237v: Events in Utrecht and the Low Countries, November 1591-April 1599 (ed. Brom & Van Langeraad 1907, 304-486).

The editions by Muller 1906 and by Brom & Van Langeraad 1907 are not complete, and particularly the latter ones focus on Buchelius himself and local history. They leave out notes on well-known (inter)national events and descriptions of well-known monuments. The translations are selective in the same way. A new, complete edition is in the making.

The rapiaria

The Diarium is no actual diary, but more or less an edition of separate small diaries (rapiaria) which Buchelius had kept. Of the rapiaria only two have remained. Ms. 1640 is titled Acta diurna (‘Daily matters’) and covers his time in Douai and Paris ( July 1584-May 1586) and the beginning of his journey through Italy (February and March 1588). Ms. 761 has a longer title: Rerum memorabilium diversarum observationum itineris mei Germanici et Italici commentariolus (‘Short notes on various observations of memorable matters during my German and Italian journeys’). It more or less covers the period April 1587-June 1588.

Buchelius as the editor of his own work

In both rapiaria we find crosses or long lines in the margins. They seem to be the sections Buchelius selected to be included in the Diarium. A brief comparison shows that Buchelius did not use all entries from his rapiaria. What he did use he often rephrased, or summarized or even rewrote (for instance poems by his own hand). So Buchelius edited his own work, and it is clear that he aimed at a well-organised document, more orderly than the small and sometimes sloppy rapiaria. He supplemented the text of the Diarium with texts from other notebooks or sources. This is also shown by the illustrations in the Diarium.

The origins of the illustrations

The Diarium is illuminated with over a hundred drawings, varying from small coins and coats of arms to large monuments, city views and maps. These are partly fair and coloured-in versions of the drawings we find in the rapiaria. So the monument of Anne de Montmorency (Diarium I, 164v) has been taken from Ms. 1640, fol 60r. However, a number of the larger drawings in the Paris section in the Diarium we do not find in his raparium. Possibly Buchelius used a large sketch book, now lost, or he used other sources as he did with the illustration of the Castel Sant’Angelo around 1490 (II, 30v), which he apparently took from an old drawing, or the Capitol in Rome (II, 39r which he copied from a book published in 1588 (see De Jong & Kemper 2009).

The value of the Diarium

The ultimate value of the Diarium must be established in connection with the rapiaria and other sources – sources from Buchelius himself as well as external sources, on which he based his texts and illustrations. However, we can establish that the Diarium, even though it is an edition, is a unique ego document. Buchelius is one of the first foreign humanists who gives an extensive account of his travels through France, Germany and Italy. He does so with the eyes of a historian (compare Langereis 2001) and art lover (compare Hoogewerff & Van Regteren Altena 1928) but also as a moderate catholic who is confronted with the Counter Reformation abroad. His experiences have certainly influenced his ‘conversion’ to Protestantism (Pollman 2000). Unlike any other Utrecht citizen Buchelius embodies the Renaissance and Reformation which played such a decisive role in his life.

Author: Bart Jaski, 2012

Image of the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome (Ms. 798-2, fol. 30v)