Den ouden luijster is verwenen: geschiedenis, herinnering en verlies bij Jan Baptist Van der Straelen (1792-1817)
Faculty of Arts. History
Belgisch tijdschrift voor nieuwste geschiedenis / Jan Dhondt Stichting. - Gent, 1969, currens
, p. 517-555
University of Antwerp
An abundant literature has been produced over the past decades revolving around the idea that the revolutionary experience after 1789 produced an irreversible rupture in Western thinking about time. This article aims to test this claim against a local chronicle written by the Antwerp conservative historian Jan Baptist Van der Straelen. The choice for this type of source is prompted by a double need to enlarge the scope of investigation. On the one hand the use of chronicles enables us to look beyond the 'classical' autobiographical sources mostly used in this branch of research, on the other it implicates the introduction of a non-historiographical perspective in the study of historical culture in the Southern Netherlands during this period. In his chronicle, Van der Straelen appears as an intransigent supporter of the old regime. In his view, the welfare of society came down to the continued existence of the ancient privileges and constitutions, catholic religion and the material urban historical heritage. To him, the past was linked organically to the present and was, in a cyclical fashion, continuously reproduced in it. The revolutionary upheavals which undermined the old order from 1792 on, roused feelings of rupture with tradition and alienation with the present in Van der Straelen. In his chronicle he aired his feelings of incomprehension and frustration at the systematic destruction of the ancestral heritage. As an antiquarian, the damage caused to the urban material heritage, including buildings, works of art and inscriptions, particularly worried him. However, the chronicle does not provide proof of the revolutionary events causing an irreversible rupture in his historical consciousness. Drastic as they might have been, the events did not seem to strike him as wholly unseen. Striking parallels with these contemporary events could indeed be found in the city's sixteenth-century past. Moreover, all through the French period and even after, he kept sincerely hoping for liberation and a restoration of the old regime. Even if he more than once indulged in nostalgic grieving over things definitively lost, Van der Straelen did not consider the old order to be outdated. The strong bond which continuously connected the past with the present endured heavy strain, but was not broken. This finding illustrates how the genre of the chronicle has important contributions to make in the study of evolutions in historical consciousness during this period.