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4.0 out of 5 stars Gold and glory, 6 Aug 2013
This review is from: Family, Culture and Society in the Diary of Constantijn Huygens Jr, Secretary to Stadholder-King William of Orange (Egodocuments and History Series) (Hardcover)
Rudolf Dekker is a peeping Tom among Dutch historians. He is an insatiable seeker after writings of a kind called "ego documents" - first-person factual literature. He is a pioneer in the scholarly study of this genre, which adds so much personality, color and authenticity to our understanding of the past. In his new book, Dekker takes on one of the biggest ego documents of the Dutch Golden Age, which in this case also overlays the English Glorious Revolution. Constantijn Huygens Jr. (1628-97) was the son of the great poet and polymath Constantijn Huygens (1596-1687) and the brother of Christian Huygens (1629-95), one of the fathers of modern science. It says a lot for all of them that they stayed on good terms with each other throughout life. Constantijn the father and son both devoted their working lives to the House of Orange, Constantijn Jr. to the court of Stadhouder Willem III, the William of William and Mary. With appropriate self-regard, Huygens observed and commented on doings at court over a period of decades in the latter 17th century, starting in the Netherlands and accompanying William to England in 1688. Dekker has arranged the observations thematically, lining them up to allow us too a peek into court doings and attitudes concerning warfare, nationalities, art, sex, servants and other subjects. The results are often entertaining, sometimes illuminating, but often a bit routine.
Dekker may be loading more significance onto Huygens's rather unpretentious journal than it can bear, calling it "the invention of the modern diary" and comparing it with his brother's scientific triumphs in time measurement. He writes that Huygens pioneers the modern, linear sense of time. He dates this irreversible, global shift to the period around 1700. While reading his book, I happened to come across a statement on the same subject that takes a different view of the matter and that appeals to me more. It accompanies a fascinating exhibition in the new north-French museum Louvre-Lens: "Man's perception of time is twofold. On the one hand, he senses the existence of cyclical time through observable and repetitive natural phenomena (day/night, the cycle of the moon, the return of seasons); on the other hand, he feels the continuous and finite linear time on his own life and on the majority of living beings and inanimate objects. This twofold perception underlies the construction of every civilisation, each one resolving in a variety of ways the difference, not to say contradictions, between these two types of time."
Rudolf Dekker's work and this book are indispensable contributions to studying and thinking about a subject that concerns all of us from childhood (remember?) to old age. Highly recommended.
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