« PreviousContinue »
Infidels in Prussia, where, by the way, they appear to have made a pretty durable seltlement. The history of Henry the Lion, Duke of Brunswick, is still popular amongst the German peasantry. The Devil carries this celelebrated warrior on his back, like the Bishop in Coleridge's Ballads, and conveys him from the Holy Land to Brunswick, where he arrives when he is least expected, and reveals himself to his wife, a second Runnild, who is on the point of becoming a reluctant bride, by dropping the “ gimmel ring" in the golden goblet. With these romances are connected a class of poems, holding a middle place between the longer romantic relations and the common ballad, most of which are grounded on some marvellous incident : the history of Anthijr, a valiant king of the Mecklenburg Vandals; the history of Sir Peter of Stauffenberg and the Mermaid, founded on a very ancient popular tradition, and which has been translated by Mr. Jamieson into the difficult dialect of Barbour. “ The deeds of the noble hero, Thedel L'nverfeden of Walmoden, may be considered as concluding the series. Those who are curious to learn how he defied the might of Satan, may consult the novel told by “Monseigneur" of the gentle knight of Almain, “moult grand voyageur en son temps," where they will find the edifying story upon which it is founded.
We have had the satisfaction of beholding a portion of the venerable body of Saint Barlaam enshrined in crystal—either his little finger or his great toe-we have unfortunately forgotten which ; and therefore have read with great interest the legend in which this holy hermit acts so conspicuous a part. It was versified by Rodolph of Hohenems, who flourished between the years 1220 and 1254. The taste for these pious inventions increased; and the principal works in the Nether Saxon dialect, which began to be much cultivated in the fourteenth century, were rhyming legends and religious allegories. An amusing specimen is found in the life of St. Brandan, the Christian Odyssey, as it has been called by a German writer. The history of this holy Irishman is so extravagantly wild, that even Vincent de Beauvais, who was not easily starlled, declares that he considers it as apocryphal. St. Brandan's tedious voyage appears to have been undertaken for the purpose of expiating his unbelief in the zoology of Pliny and Solinus. He reads in a * boke" of the wondrous beasts and misshapen races of men which this world contains ;- -he
peruses, chapter after chapter, till his patience is exhausted;- and, in a fit of spleen, he throws the volume in the fire. This happened either in Jutland or in Ireland; and the very same night an angel appeared to him, and, as a fitting penance for the wanton destruction which he had occasioned, the celestial messenger enjoined him to perform a task which to the present generation appears the easiest and most amusing of all others, namely, that " he should make the book all over again." We give the mandate in the words of the original
« Dar umme dat du dat bok vorbrant hest in dun oure
Dat bok mostu wedder maken:
In order to collect materials for this rifacciamento, the Saint provisions a vessel sor a seven years' voyage, and sets sail without loss of time, accompanied by his fellow monks and his chaplain. In the process of making the book," St. Brandan has shown that he was a thorough-paced proficient in that useful art, as he has very judiciously eked out his journal by bor
rowing some of the choicest adventures of Lucian's true history. All professions have their patron saints; and we think that Grub-street and Paternoster-row should join in a dinner on the tenth of May-this holy man's anniversary. Of the same age are the legends of the holy virgin, Saint Marina, who, disguised in male attire, was placed by her father in a convent of jolly friars; Theophilus, who makes over his body and soul to Satan, and is delivered by the Virgin, who cites Satan out of hell, and compels him to surrender the fatal bond; and the long and entertaining story of Zeno. All these are in the same dialect.
The numerous “universal histories" in verse, however legendary and inaccurate, were the means of diffusing information amongst the “ lewed" who had not Latin enough to enable them to atlack the folios of Vincent de Beauvais and Helinandus. When literature became fixed in the towns, a greater degree of attention was given to histories possessing a local interest. For these, sufficient materials were furnished by the interminable disputes and petty wars between the free cities and the neighbouring sovereigns and nobility.
From the time of Frauenlob and Regenbogen, the cultivation of German poetry devolved almost exclusively upon the “MASTER - SINGERS" in the great towns, to whom we have already alluded. Poetry, certainly, never had so singular a fortune in any other country. It actually became one of the incorporated trades in all cities; and the burghers obtained the freedom of it as of any other corporation. Of many of these humble bards we know very little more than their names, which in truth are not particularly prepossessing :-Zwinger and Wurgendrussel, Buchenlin, Amker, and Hellfire, Old Stoll and Young Stoll, Strong Bopp, Dang Brotscheim, Batt Spiegel, Peter Pfort, and Martin Gumpel. The period when these guilds or schools of verse first received their statutes and regulations is involved in great uncertainty. On this head the German antiquaries are divided in opinion. By M. Grimm, the Minne-singers and the Master-singers are supposed to have originally formed but one class of poets: and one of the works noticed at the head of this article maintains this theory against the objections of Docen, who has taken the opposite side of the question. At all events, these societies offer a most singular phenomenon. Composed entirely of the lower ranks of society, of hard-working tradesmen and artificers, they obtained a monopoly of verse-craft, and extended their tuneful fraternities over the greater part of the empire. Wherever the “hoch Deutsch” was spoken, there the Master-singers founded a colony; and they were even found in Bohemia, where the German was more familiar to the mixed population of the towns than the Sclavonian language.
The vulgar, all over the world, delight to indulge themselves with glitter and parade, and external distinction; and it is amusing to observe how easily the lower orders can contrive to gratify the cravings which they feel, in common with greater folks. The law will have it that the king is the sole fountain of honour; but those who are too diminutive and feeble to toil up to the pinnacle of the rock, and lave themselves in the streams of royal favour, find means to slake their thirst quite as effectually from humbler sources.
A lodge of odd-fellows will marshal a funeral with as many slaves and banners as could be furnished by the Lord Lion King at Arms, and all his heralds and pursuivants to boot, from Albany to Dingwall. The petty huckster of the country town has no order dangling from his button-hole, and can never hope to figure in the installation; but his veins
swell with quite as much dignity when he stalks in the procession with his pinchbeck badge and embroidered apron, the grand officer of his lodge of freemasons, gazed on and admired by all the slipshod wenches and ragged urchins of the parish. The workings of this insatiate propensity may be distinctly traced in the pride and solemnity of schools of verse of the Master-singers. The candidate was introduced with great form into the assembly. The four “merkers” or examiners sal behind a silken curtain, to pass judgment on his qualifications. One of these had Martin Luther's translation of the Bible before him, il being considered as the standard of the language. His province was to decide whether the diction of the novice was pure, and his grammar accurate. The others attended to the rhyme and metre of the composition, and the melody to which it was sung. And if they united in declaring that the candidate had complied with the statutes and regulations, he was decorated with a silver chain and badge,—the latter representing good King David playing on the harp; and he was honourably admitted into the society.
The metrical system of the Master-singers was peculiar to themselves. Their technical terms cannot be well translated; we shall therefore add the few which we shall notice in the original. Our mineralogical friends are so well content to crackle, and whizz, and thump, through many an AngloWernerian page of quartz, gneiss, trapp, schorl, blue whack, and grey whack, that we humbly hope and trust that for once the nomenclature of this marketable poesy may also be allowed to pass muster.
The poems of the Master-singers were always lyrical, and actually sung to music. The entire poem was called a “bar;" and it was divided generally into three, but sometimes into five or more stanzas, or “gesetze;" and each “satz" also fell into three portions ; the first of which was a “stole," the second an “abgesang," and the third a "style," like the first. The rhymes were classed into "slumpfe-reime," and klingende reime," and "stumpfe
“ schlage-reime," and "klingende-schiag-reime," and other denominations were employed, which we shall spare ourselves the trouble of transcribing. “ The poets, singers, and merkers" counted the syllables on their fingers; and if there was a proper number of syllables in the line, it was of no consequence whether they were long or short. The length of the verse, the number of lines, and the order of the rhymes in each “stole” and “abgesang," was variable; and consequently their poems were susceptible of a great variety of forms, which were called tunes or “weise. The invenlion of a new “weise” was considered as the test of a Master-singer's abilities. There were some hundreds of these “weise,” all named after their inventors ; as,
Hans Tindeisen's rosemary weise;" Joseph Schmierer's flowery paradise “ weise;" Hans Fogel's fresh “ weise;" and Henry Frauenlob's yellow “weise," and his blue" weise" and his frog "weise," and his looking-glass “ weise.” The code of criticism to which the Master-singers were subjected was contained in the rules or " Tabulatur” of the societies; and it certainly was most unreasonably severe. They were actually prohibited from employing a sentences which nobody could understand,” or “words wherein no meaning could be discovered ; which unseeling interdictions are found in the Ath and 5th articles of the Nuremberg Tabulatur. The Master-singers amused themselves by ascribing an extravagant antiquity to their institutions, although their stalules and regulations do not appear to have been completely established till the fifteenth or sixteenth centuries. Master Cyril Sprangenburgh, indeed,
deduced their history from the “Celtic bards in the time of Abraham;" and this elaborate disquisition gave such satisfaction to the society, that it was transcribed in vellum, and “bound with gold bosses, clasps, and corners," and preserved amongst their archives with as much veneration as the Florentine copy of the Pandects. The charter of incorporation of the “Twelve Wise Masters” was said to have been granted by the Emperor Otto and Pope Leo the Fourth. To show the absurdity of the fable, it will be sufficient to observe, that Conrad of Würtzburg, and Frauenlob, and olhers of yet later date, are said to have been cited by that Emperor, in the year 962, to appear before him at Pavia, where, as Adam Puschmann" gravely records, “they sung before the professors of the University, and were declared to be the masters and founders of the art.”
The city of Nuremberg was the Athens of these incorporated poets. To the credit of Hans Foltz, the barber and master-singer, who shaved there in the middle of the fifteenth century, it must be told, that he took great interest in promoting the then newly discovered art of printing; and even set up a private press at his own house. None of his mastership songs have been published; but his Mystery, or “Fastnachts Spiel,” founded on the old story of “Solomon and Marcolfus," went through many editions, and became quite a stock piece. Hans Rosenblut, who followed the trade of an illuminator or letter-painter, also excelled as a dramatic writer; and his best piece, “ The Grand Turk's Mystery,” is yet a favourite at the German fairs : although the Pope's ambassador, and the rest of the “corps diplomatique," who figure at the general congress assembled for the purpose of taking the Sultan's proposal into consideration, are now enacted by the wooden representatives vulgarly ycleped puppets. But none of the Mastersingers can vie with the industrious Hans Sachs, the shoemaker. Hans was born at Nuremberg in the year 1994; and his father, an honest tailor, placed him, at an early age, in the free-school of the town, where, as he mentioas in one of his poems," he was indifferently taught, according to the bad
', system which was followed in those days.” However, he “picked up a few scraps of Greek and Latin.” In his fifteenth year, he learnt shoemaking; and about the same time, one Nunnenbeck, a weaver and master-singer, instructed him in the rudiments of the “meister gesang.” According to an old German custom, it was usual for young workmen to travel round the country for some years, before they settled in their trade. Hans confesses that his conduct during his rambles was not altogether exemplary, but he lost no opportunity of improving himself in the praiseworthy art;" and in his twentieth year he composed his first bar,” a godly song, to the tune of “ Long Marner,” and was admitted to share in the honours to which he had so long aspired. Hans was partial to narrative poetry; but he gained most renown by his plays and farces, some of which extend to seven acts, and which afforded wonderful amusement to the patient Nuremberghers. In the seventy-seventh year of his age, he took an inventory of his poetical stock in trade, and found, according to his narrative, that his works "filled Thirty folio volumes, all written with his own hand,” and consisted of four thousand two hundred "mastership songs; two hundred and eight comedies, tragedies, and farces; one thousand seven hundred fables, tales, and miscellaneous poems, and seventy-three devotional, military, and love songs; making a sum-total of six thousand and forty-eight pieces, great and small.” Out of these he culled as many as filled three massy folios, which were published in the year 1538-61. And another edition being called for, Ilans could
not resist the temptation of increasing it from his manuscripts. During the whole of his life, he continued to work at his trade, although he found leisure enough to spin out a greater mass of rhyme than was ever produced by one man, if Lope de Vega be excepted. Hans had the satisfaction to find that his collected works” were received as welcome gift by the public; and, in the year 1576, he died full of years and honour. We have given these details, because the fame of this indefatigable writer has lately revived in Germany; and a reprint of his works, or at least of a part of them, is in contemplation. The humour of his fabliaux, or “Schwänke," certainly is not contemptible. He laughs lustily, and makes his reader join him : his manner, as far as verse can be compared to prose, is not unlike that of Rabelais, but less grotesquo. The Frenchman runs on like the witty and extravagant jester of former times; he rattles his “marotto” until you are stunned with the noise. Hans tells his tale like a convivial burgher fond of his can, and still fonder of drollery.
Some of the older German moralising satires became very popular in foreign countries. This is not the place to speak of the satirical writings which arose out of the Reformation, and to which they proved such powerful auxiliaries. But the works of this description which were produced Jong before Luther was called into activity, are nevertheless all stamped with the same character. Their authors were generally deeply-learned, coarse, clear-headed ecclesiastics, primed with the Classics and the Fathers, and yet acquainted with the world ; keen observers; dauntless enemies of folly and superstition; but whose wit is dashed with grossness, and whose caustic salire degenerates into abuse.
Caxton's prose translation of Reynard 'the Fox, in which he says, “ I have not added, ne mynished, but have followed, as nyghe as I can, my copye, which was in Dutche”—was printed ten years before any of the Dutch or German editions of this most favourite allegory made its appearance. According to Eccard, a Count Reginard or Reinhard, who lived in the ninth century, was disgraced and banished by King Zwentibold, the son of the Emperor Arnolph. This nobleman having fled to his castle of Durfos, where he contrived to defend himself by his stratagems, gained the name of the Fox,” whilst his own became the popular denomination of that wily animal. Eccard also finds a prototype for the wolf, who, in the allegories of the middle ages, often bears the name of Isengrim, in an Austrian count who rebelled against Zwenlibold's father. The exploits of those troublesome vassals are asserted to have been sung in popular ballads, very anciently current in the Low Countries, and these are supposed by the historian to have suggested to Jacquemar's Gielée of Liele, the plan of his “Nouveau Renard." Eccard's conjectures rest upon slender grounds; and the history of the French poems of Gielée, Richebeuf, etc., is foreign to our subject ; but it is necessary to premise thus much, as the Saxon “ Reynke de Vos" is professedly borrowed from the French language. Henry of Alkmaar, the author, describes himself as schoolmasler and teacher of morals (trecht-leser) to the Duke of Lorraine;" and as it may be conjectured that he found some difficulty in exercising his vocation, he probably thought it advisable to be able to apologise as Caxton did If any thyng be said or wreten herein that may greve or dysplease any man, blame not me, but the foxe ; for they bee his wordes, and not myne.” The existence of Henry of Alkmaar has been callod in question ; nor has it been ascertained how far the Reynke corresponds with the French romances;