Everybody knows that London in the sixteen-sixties was portrayed by Samuel Pepys in his famous diary. But did you know that there was a ‘Hagenaar’ who did the same for The Hague in the same century, though forty years earlier? No, you didn’t! But you’re not the only one. Most Dutch don’t know about this diarist who was a schoolmaster by name of David Beck.
David Beck was born in Cologne in 1594 and he died in Arnhem in 1634, a year after Samuel Pepys’ year of birth. Beck had migrated to The Hague where he founded a school for the children of wealthy families on Hoogstraat in 1617. At that time, the Hague was a moderately sized town with some 18,000 citizens. Because it was the royal residence, many wealthy people lived in close proximity to each other. It was not only home to the Court of Maurits of Orange, but also to King Frederick of Bohemia and his English wife Elizabeth Stuart, who had kept an impressive court here since their exile in 1624. All this wealth had a major impact on the people of the town and its culture.
Three weeks after the death of his beloved wife Roeltje van Belle, David Beck started a diary. Like many of his contemporaries he was a keen poet, musician and draughtsman, and an enthusiastic walker. Although he missed his dead wife, he soon turned his amorous attention to other women. One of them was Roos, who lived in a house called ‘de Lelie’ on a square known as ‘Plaats’. This square is still there. Beck often ‘happened’ to wander by her house for several months. When he finally proposed to Roos in October 1624, she rejected him, and he left The Hague shortly afterwards. He moved to Arnhem where he died ten years later.%1624 was a disastrous year, also because many died of the plague. 400 people in Delft had died in just one week. People called the plague ‘God’s gift’ ironically. It was seen as a punishment for the sins of the people. Like many others Beck must have wondered what sins had caused this punishment. No wonder that he was studying the book of the prophet Ezekiel that Sunday. In this passage a jealous God takes revenge on an unfaithful Jerusalem and its sinful people.
Most of the streets that Beck mentions in his diary are still there today, in the twenty-first century, almost 400 years later. It’s amazing that you could follow the schoolmaster in his footsteps. So much is still the same. Beck happened to meet the celebrities of his day (like Constantijn Huygens and Jacob Cats), and it’s not unlikely that you meet the famous people of today like prime minister Rutte and King Willem Alexander. Anyway, here is the entry from the diary of David Beck of Sunday, 28 July 1624.
“Moderately cool but pleasant weather, with no sunshine until three o’clock in the afternoon, and later a threatened rain shower that simply passed through. I was at the monastery chapel with my dear friend Herman Breckerfelt this morning to listen to minister Roseus’ sermon on Luke 3:1. I became unwell during the sermon. We went straight home and once Breckerfelt had treated me to cake, he went home and I to my office, where I read Ezekiel chapters nine to thirty-three in the French bible before and after lunch and in the afternoon.
I was at the Great Church (Grote Kerk) in the afternoon for La Motte’s sermon on questions 33 and 34 of the Catechism. When I left the church I took a turn around The Hague, went home at four o’clock, read the Bible in my office and did some sketches at school. I spoke to Breckerfelt’s brother-in-law Herman, who had come from Delft that afternoon, and said he planned to leave in an hour or two. Perhaps I would like to write a note for him to take to his brother Hendrick? Received a note from Jacob Henrici of Amsterdam, with five thousand pens.
At six o’clock I walked to Roeltje’s mother’s house, where I rested for an hour and talked about all kinds of things with her and sheriff Cinq. At seven o’clock the sheriff and I walked along Spuistraat, along Poten, Houtstraat, Plantage and back into The Hague along Voorhout (where I encountered messieurs Jacob Cats and Constantijn Huygens), past Roos at ‘de Lelie’ on Plaats square, and so I brought him back to Roeltje’s mother’s house, took my leave of her at eight o’clock and went back to Breckerfelt’s, where I stayed for supper.
And when after supper we had sung the second psalm with them, I left and walked in the moonlight along Voorhout and from there along Kneuterdijk and Vijverberg, and again onto Voorhout, past Roos at ‘de Lelie’ and went home, where I arrived at half past ten, and went straight to bed. This afternoon Mr Van Veenhuijsen’s wife was buried here. She died suddenly this week, they say of a hot fever, though there is a rumour that she had ‘God’s gift’.”
[Diary entry freely translated (thank you, Sue McDonell) and interpreted (by me, Ruud Hisgen); David Beck, ‘Spiegel van mijn leven; een Haags dagboek uit 1624’ (‘David Beck, Mirror of My Life; a Hague diary of 1624’), introduction and notes by S.E. Veldhuizen, Hilversum, 1993. Photos by Yolande Hisgen]