On old Polish diaries
Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów

Passage to knowledge

Museum of King Jan III’s Palace at Wilanów

On old Polish diaries Roman Krzywy
Jakub Sobieski, rycina Juliana Schübelera, 1883; Biblioteka Narodowa

XVII century was the time of strong development of diary writing, which in the previous century only began to form as a way of creating memory space. This change, in my opinion, was facilitated by a rapid growth of literacy among noblemen, who at the beginning of XVI century started educating, and began recording memories of their lives, as a result. It was the stormy times of the epoch, that contributed to this phenomenon. The beginning of XVII century was the time of Polish-Muscovite Wars. A few witnesses of the events from the Republic decided to make notes, beginning the history of private memorials in Poland.

The notion 'pamiętnik' (diary) means notes made from time perspective. Many Polish documentalists of more and less important events, conducted current diaries, writing daily descriptions of current events accompanied by exact date (when notes were conducted irregularly thy are referred to as abrupt diaries (raptularius). It was a utilitarian, not literary form, made mainly for informative purposes (missions, war campaigns, ceremonies, and parliamentary meetings). Travellers also wrote diaries, recording short descriptions of what they saw, or who they met on a given day.

According to Old Polish educationalists, this practice aimed at educating young people going abroad. Such notes commemorating important events can be also found in noble hand-written books (silva rerum). In Jan Cedrowki's raptularius covering the period of 1635-1682, some records concern whole years. 'On 5th May 1649 in Stara Wieś in Podlachia, died my wife Marianna Szwejkowska, leaving no offspring. She was buried in Zbór Węgrowski in Podlachia, in the town belonging to his majesty Duke Bogusław Radziwiłł, the Royal Equerry of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, on 2nd September 1649. On 30th October 1650 I married miss Mirska, the daughter of the Guard of Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Katarzyna Kapuszczewska – town dapifer's daughter. The wedding took place in Kopyl, the town belonging to the Equerry of the Great Duchy of Lithuania'.

The origin of private hand-written diaries, is associated with so called ephemerides and astronomical almanacs, that is old counterparts of present calendars, however, different in time span for which they were created (often several dozen years) and in content (emphasis on astrological and astronomical contents). They were printed in bulk from the last quarter of XV century until the end of the following century. In forewords, their publishers encouraged readers to write down all important events of private and public life. Such notebook became a private chronicle with no selection of the material. For example the record made in 1499-1508 by Erazm Ciołek, is the source of information about toothache and fever, as well as notes from a mission to Rome. (The route, dates of Papal audiences, participation in masses, information about meetings and bad news). Other records made by a young Cracovian doctor Mikołaj Sokolnicki in 1507-1531, have a purely intimate character – he wrote information concerning numerous love dates with his patients, and resulting brawls. On the other hand, Stanisław Krzysztoporski (second half of XVI century) commemorated historical events (wars, births and deaths in royal families, tribunals, parliamentary meetings and missions) as well as family and economic events.

The authors of some diaries and hand-written books, returned to them after years, to compile and complete them again, changing their function and changing their form. This genre did not, however, have formulated rules. The shape of some memories was created by the idea of writing memory books learned from ancient texts, like Commetarii de bellocivili of Julius Caesar. They were imitated by Stanisław Zółkiewski at the beginning and during the Moscow War, which was the most splendid example of diary narration from the Old Polish period, or by authors whose memories are not included in the collection of works of the highest value. (let us quote an example of the Diary from the expedition to Isachca upon Danube, by Samuel Proski). Another way of seeking form for writing memories, was based on assimilation to similar forms: historiography, and various forms of geographical records (they were peculiarly essential in case of travel diaries). Namely such, which owing to their long tradition, had a fixed copied subject, which could be the proof of searching for final aesthetic shape transformed to diary relations. Another influence of other genres of more or less petrified poetics, was also possible: eulogy, reflection, romance, or meditative writing. For example, the influence of eulistic genre can be found in some autobiographies.

A Latin diary by Jakub Sobieski from The Khotin war could be an example depicting this topic (Commentatorium Chotinensis belli libri tres, Gdańsk 1646) edited on the basis of the diary of the battle written in Polish, compiled probably for reporting purposes. The new edition implied references to ancient historiographic traditions (Tacitus), as well as extending the inventive plan with new components (Crown Chancellor added the famous wake-up speech of Jan Karol Chodkiewicz, which was not mentioned in the diary).

The change of language also caused the change of distribution (from hand-written to printed) and expanded the circle of recipients. In the manuscript, Sobieski became the author of success of the Polish army (he is believed to be the creator of the Khotin glory myth). The diary published after the death of the Commander, owing to the use of Latin, could play analogical role not only in the Republic, but also abroad.

Diary records were often accompanied by polemic or apologetic intention. The casus of Stanisław Żółkiewski is a well known example. He reacted to accusations towards his actions in the Moscow Country during the Dark Times and answered to them with a diary correcting the ideas concerning the course of events. Thus it is a diary of political and journalistic character. Apologetic character was also present in the diaries of the history and life of Jan III Sobieski, by Philipe Dupont – the king's artillerist, whose diaries were the result of outrage by the publication of the diaries by another soldier from France, who depicted the war actions of the Polish Monarch in a negative perspective.

A specific group of diaries are the ones written during travel, which as I mentioned, often used diary notes. Jakub Sobieski, Jan III's father wrote in the ending to his journey memories: 'these peregrinations of mine, were noted in different languages, French and Spanish. Then after my return I settled in Zolokhiv in 1642 and reconciling with my memory, was able to write it down in Polish, the whole peregrination to Christian countries.' The initial diary was written for educational purposes and after years it became a coverage, whose aim was not justified by the author. The material from the peregrination was justified by itself, as writing was motivated by broadly accepted cognitive reasons.

Another diarist, Stanisław Niemojewski, travelled to Russia with Maria Mieszkówna. After murdering Dymitr Samozwaniec I, he spent 2 years in a Moscow prison and edited his diary twice and changed its purpose. One version constituted the description of geographic territories, combining the description of the Moscow Country with documentary aims. Another version was written more by a chronicle than geographer, and explained to the reader why he occasionaly included geographical motives. In both version, he presented hostile attitude towards srange reality, and did not acknowledge the aspirations of the new reality to be called civilisation. His polemic was presented in the form of direct opinions, even when he called for war, or in his views of the questioned culture.

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