Diversa sed Una: A Literary Society’s Collection > Letterkundig genootschap Diversa sed Una

The literary society Diversa sed Una was founded on 6 February 1816. In the beginning, the society comprised eleven active members and 56 honorary members, who had access to the reading sessions and were also allowed to borrow books later on. From the start, Diversa sed Una was more than just a reading club; it also organized lectures and cultural outings. DsU’s broad ambitions are clearly expressed in the speech that was delivered on the occasion of the society’s foundation (translated into present-day English, it reads):

‘More than once, the patrons of the Arts and Sciences of this city were rightly grieved that until now our city always lagged behind as to the means towards a more scientific civilization. That is why, art-loving fellow townsmen, the undersigned have come together, out of love for same as well as out of ambition not to leave our city any more totally behind the times, in order to lay the ground for the foundation of a society aiming at cultivating and studying our national literature, with Arts and Science as its main general purpose, that will combine business with pleasure in Diversity and Unity, following in this the example of the cities of Alkmaar, Delft, Gouda and even quite recently Breda (not to speak of Haarlem and nearby Rotterdam, that both may pride themselves on a number of illustrious societies.’

Group portrait of the persons attending the 1939 Baars party, the Society Diversa sed Una’s annual cultural outing with a promenade and a meal

On 30th April 1816, to start with, the DsU library comprised works by Ewaldus Kist, a Dordrecht minister, and Jan Schouten, master shipbuilder and freemason. Thanks to donations, legacies and acquisitions of works in the field of sciences and letters, a library was built up that was opened to the public in the Van Peeren’s theatre on Wijnstraat in 1824. Book loans increased greatly in the course of the 19th century, to reach the absolute record of 500 in 1889. Later on, this number was to drop dramatically. In 1898, the members were given the choice to donate the library to the municipality, hand over books deemed suitable to secondary schools, or to keep the books themselves. Preference was given to the third option. The reading clubs - separate ones for ladies and gentlemen – were abolished, as were honorary memberships. From that time on, DsU was to lead a more withdrawn life.

The same year, 1898, the first Public Library of the Netherlands was opened, following the example of the English Free Library. The DsU’s library, which included more than 1500 titles at the time, was transferred to the new reading room. Book loans soared to 854 in 1919, only to stabilize at around 50 per year after the Second World War. The more often books were taken out, the worse for wear they were when returned. In 1971, when the Public Library was transferred from the Wijnstraat location to the premises on Achterom, a stop was put to lending out the books. The collection of books was given in loan to the Dordtse Stadsarchief (Dordrecht Municipality Archives), where the society’s archives had also been accommodated 25 years earlier.

The society Diversa sed Una still exists to this day. The twenty members, all of them men, convene according to tradition on Tuesdays. Six times every winter, one of the members delivers an address; afterwards, the company drinks one frugal glass of beer. The custom of the annual ‘Baars party’, the cultural outing with a promenade and a meal, has also been maintained.

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