A silva rerum is a special type of multigenerational family journal which was kept by members of the Polish nobility in the 16th-18th centuries. In Poland, the silva rerum is a writing tradition in and of itself, and excerpts from notable examples have been widely printed and distributed. In addition to being a historical writing style, the silva rerum also appears in modern literature, with some authors attempting to recreate the look and feel of the traditional silva rerum in their work.
The size of a silva rerum would have varied, depending on how verbose the authors were and how long the journal was kept. Most would have been under 1,000 pages, although a few were much longer, and the contents were generally quite diverse. Far from being a simple diary, a silva rerum was a complex and multifaceted chronicle of events in the lives of the family members, tied in with events going on in the larger world.
In addition to traditionally formatted journal entries, a silva rerum would have had original artwork, copies of legal documents, comments on events of the day, notable quotes and comments, and entries from friends as well as family members. The silva rerum was a collective document used by all members of the family to record events of importance, and it was primarily intended for internal circulation, although a few families did publish theirs on occasion.
You may also see a silva rerum referred to as a family chronicle, home journal, or simply “sylwa,” a Polish corruption of the original Latin “silva.” In Latin, “silva rerum” means “forest of things,” and that's exactly what these books contained: an assortment of diverse and varied items which collectively told the history of a family. Incidentally, there is some dispute over the pronunciation of the “v” in Latin. Some people feel that the “v” had a soft sound, more like a “w,” while others prefer a hard “v,” so you could say “syl-wah” or “syl-va,” depending on your personal taste.
The fad for keeping such journals has been an immense boon to historians, who have been able to construct lush pictures of what life was like in Poland during the period in which these diaries were kept. Thanks to the often meticulous details in these journals, it is possible to see how much tenants paid for rent, what the prevailing costs of foodstuffs were, and how communities responded to various events and crises, along with many other things.