A Wandering Scholar of the Sixteenth Century
JOHANANNES BUTZBACH of Miltenberg, named, after the Latinizing fashion of the time, “ Piemontanus,” belonged to the group of Humanist scholars and writers, whose influence in the Germany of the latter half of the fifteenth and the first quarter of the sixteenth century rose steadily in importance, until it was carried away and lost sight of in the much stronger movement of the Reformation. The writings: of the school are characterized, as are those of the Italian authors of the Renaissance, to whom the German Humanists correspond, by a passionate return to the study of the Latin and Greek classics, neglected during the Middle Ages for the philosophy of the Schoolmen and St. Augustine. That other chief trait of the Renaissance, the renewed interest in nature and closer observation of its processes, is to be found in them, too, and comes like a ray of sunlight to lighten many a dusty page. If it is to be detected less frequently, on the whole, than might have been expected, it only lightens the brighter when, in some naïveté of opinion or bit of fresh description, it finds its way to the surface of the author’s thought.
With such contemporaries as Erasmus of Rotterdam, Johannes Reuehlin, Wilibald Pirkheimer, and Sebastian Brandt, our Butzbach cannot be said to have held a leading place in the thought of his day ; yet it is certain that, for the right understanding of the life of that day, he has left behind a work that is surpassed in importance by no one of those of his more distinguished colleagues. This little book, called by him Hodoporieon, or the Book of Travels, was written for his half-brother, Philip Drunck, as an encouragement in his studies, and contains the account of his wanderings in Germany and Bohemia as the Schütz, or fag, of a roving scholar. It presents so fresh and admirable a picture of the times, besides abounding in the elements for an exciting romance, and displaying on almost every page the gentle, sympathetic character of the author, that it has seemed to me worth while to give some little account of it to English readers. Johann’s brother, Philip, had begged for a narrative in German ; but Piemontanus, true to his classical tendencies, wrote it in Latin, telling his brother that to read it in this language would be a far better gain to his cultivation. The original manuscript exists still, with Butzbach’s other writings, in the University Library at Bonn; but a translation into German was made, in 1869, by D. J. Becker, and of this I have availed myself in the following pages.
Butzbach was born in Miltenberg, a town on the river Main, in 1477. His father was a weaver, and his parents were so poor that before the birth of his sister, hardly a year later, he was given over to the care of a wealthy aunt, to be brought up at her expense. When five years old he was sent to school, although, as he expresses it, “hardly able to speak intelligibly.” Sugar-plums and honey-cakes were persuasive arguments with him at first, but later the birch rod had to be unsparingly applied before he could be induced to enter the schoolroom. At the end of some four years the good aunt died, mourned by all the orphans and poor of the neighborhood. Johannes, or Hans, as he was called then, was sent back to his parents; his uncle taking another wife, who quickly brought him to ruin. Hans was old enough to feel his aunt’s loss deeply, but no small consolation, he confesses, was the reflection that now he would escape having to go to school. This, however, was not to be. for his parents decided to keep him on at the school. For a while he managed to outwit them, concealing himself every day in a boat on the river-bank, and remaining there until school was out and it became time to go home. Whenever he met the school-master, and was asked the cause of his absence, he had some story to tell of being kept at home to help his mother in the housework. One day a piece of inadvertency betrayed him, and the long course of his deception came to light. Forgetful of the fact that it was a Friday, he replied to the school-master’s usual question that his mother had kept him to put the meat to the fire. The lie was transparent, in those days before Luther had enunciated his doctrine of dining well when the Church ordered a fast, in order to accentuate an intellectual independence, and the young scapegrace was severely dogged. As long as the marks of the flogging remained visible on his back he was more circumspect, but a day came when the last one had disappeared, and then he relapsed into his evil habits. His parents discovered that he was repeating to them the Latin words already learned instead of new ones, and inquiry among the other scholars convinced them that he had been “ dodging ” again. So his mother took him, one morning, by the collar, and marched him into the school-room, where he was turned over to an underteacher (“ hireling,” the boys called him), to be treated according to the law. This man was of a cruel disposition, who, for his part in this affair, was afterward degraded to a jailer, as having shown a nature better fitted to deal with criminals. He made Hans strip off his clothes, and bound him fast to a post, while he beat him so unmercifully with birch rods that the blood flowed from wounds all over his body. The screams of the unfortunate lad brought his mother back to the school-room door ; but she was not allowed to come in, and the other scholars were kept singing a hymn to drown her threats of having the school-master prosecuted.
Hans did not, return to the school after this. A university student, the son of a neighbor, proposed to his father to take the boy with him on a pilgrimage to the principal schools of Germany, promising that he would learn more in this way in a short time than in long years in the school at home. It was the custom then, as it is to a certain extent to the present day, in Germany, for students to visit more than one institution of learning before completing their education. They wandered about, in those days, from school to school, receiving the name of “ Bacchants ; ” probably a corruption, as Mr. Becker suggests, of the German Vagabund. These students were commonly accompanied by much younger boys, often mere children, whom they employed to steal and run errands for them; allowing them, in return, to pick up such crumbs of knowledge as might fall from their masters’ not too well-laden tables. Butzbach says, in one place, that he does not remember ever to have learned a word of Latin from his protector; and his instruction in every other branch of useful knowledge, it is safe to say, was just as little. On the other hand, he learned, as the sequel will show, to beg, lie, and steal, although he was no apt pupil. It. was to such a preceptor that Johann’s father, the simple weaver, caught by fair words and big promises, entrusted his son, then a boy of twelve. The little fellow was delighted with the prospect of change held out to him. persuading himself that the roadside hedges were made of roast sausage, and the houses thatched with pancakes, — a truly German picture of felicity. Only when the day of parting had come did he realize how hard it was to leave his comfortable home for a world about which his expectations might prove delusory. His father, much affected, read him a long lecture, containing much sensible advice, upon his conduct in the future, and then, filling a tankard with wine, bade him take the first sip, whereupon all the rest of the family, his relations, and the student followed in turn. This done, his father kissed him good-by, and retired to pray; all the rest of the family, with a delegation of playfellows from the school, accompanying him to the town gale. Here more good-bys were said, and all turned back except his mother, who kept on along the country road, giving him many parting bits of advice, interrupted by heavy sobs. At last, when the sun was getting low in the sky, the student bade the good woman go back and comfort her husband, or she would cause them to be late at the inn they must reach by nightfall. In bitter grief the mother and son took leave of each other, turning back as they went in opposite directions, to keep one another in sight as long as the road would allow it. That night, at the inn, the student entertained some relations with the money given him by Johann’s father, while his little protégé went supperless to a corner behind the stove, where he was permitted to pass the night. Hans was now fairly launched in the world, and he found it a hard one.
At evening on the third day, after a weary foot-journey, they arrived before the walls of Nuremberg, which, with its many tall spires and houses, seemed to Hans not a city, but a whole world. They stopped a few moments to rest before entering the gates, and the student gave Hans his instructions: to keep) up with him, not lagging behind, as he had done on the road ; to refrain from gaping at the high-gabled houses; and to answer no questions that might be asked him in the town. On their way through the streets they were met by a throng of students, who gathered around Hans, wishing to know whether he were one of them. Receiving no reply, they put their hands to their heads in imitation of asses’ ears, and followed him thus to the inn where the student was to put up for the night. Here they ceased jeering, and broke out into loud praises of their school, calling it the best in Germany. The student, however, discovering that the town was full of merchants from Miltenberg. and fearing that his charge might find opportunity to desert him, decided to start early on the following morning for Bamberg. On the way thither they passed through Forchheim, whose inhabitants boasted, with an exaggeration of local patriotism. that it was the birthplace of Pontius Pilate. Bamberg, with its great cathedral, made a deep impression upon our hero, who quotes a page of Latin verse in its honor. Reception at the school here was denied them by the rector, on account of the too great number of scholars, and they were forced to return to Nuremberg. From here they wandered farther into Bavaria, in search of a school not too crowded to receive them. Johann soon discovered that his protector avoided the great schools, where he would have been set hard at work, and indeed preferred, so long as the money held out, to change about from place to place, luxuriating in his idleness. Two months having now gone by since their departure from Miltenberg, there was little money left, and Hans was obliged to beg for bread in every village that lay upon their road. The method employed by the student was as follows: Having sent Hans ahead, he skirted the houses of the village, and awaited his pupil at a point on the road beyond. If the boy returned with empty hands, he was severely beaten, and threatened with worse in the future ; if he brought anything with him, the student disposed of it himself, leaving for his follower hardly so much as would be given a dog. In order to satisfy himself that the lad had taken nothing on the way, he pursued a plan commonly in use among the students of that day. This consisted in compelling the wretched youth to rinse his mouth with warm water, and then subjecting the water to a scrupulous examination. If any small particles of food were found to linger there, his punishment was a hard one. The kind-hearted farmers’ wives, touched at the sight of so small a boy traveling alone, often took him into their houses, and made much of him; but if he accepted the warm food offered him, he was sure to suffer for it when he rejoined his tormentor. The mud in these village streets was often so thick that the little fellow stuck fast in it, and was unable to move forward or backward. The savage dogs were another danger, and he relates that more than once he would have been torn to pieces if it had not been for the timely intervention of some passing inhabitants.
Traveling in this way, they crossed the Bohemian frontier, and came to the town of Kaaden, where they were received into the school, and assigned to a single room, which was soon uncomfortably crowded by the arrival of two Vienna students with their attendant “ fags.” With his two small companions in misery, Hans begged and slaved for his master all day, and climbed at night to a sort of wooden shelf over the stove, where the three were obliged to huddle together to keep warm. One night he fell in his sleep from this precarious resting-place, and was soundly beaten next day for some injury done the stove by his fall. Not being able to satisfy his master’s luxurious tastes by begging, he was called upon to commit small thefts ; and when he refused, he was exposed to inhuman cruelties and torment. When the snow had disappeared, and the fields were beginning to show green again, they moved on to a place called Komotau, where Hans first made the acquaintance of the Protestant heretics, already very numerous in Bohemia. The plague was raging here, and they were obliged to continue their journey to Maschau, a little town ruled over by a bloodthirsty count. Hans interrupts the thread of his story to relate the misdeeds of this tyrant, who, he tells us, was materially assisted in his deviltries by a thorough understanding of the black art. Still more wonderful than the count’s own performances were those of his tame bear, which intelligent animal, going on its own understanding, apparently unassisted by black art, undertook the rescue of a prisoner from a most desperate situation, and as a reward for its success was sentenced to be limited as a common wild beast. Refusing to take part in its own degradation, it was shot by the hunters, as it sat at the base of a tree, with its front paws extended in the position of a suppliant. For this and other dastardly acts, the count seems to have deserved his reputation, and Butzbach remarks with entire justice, “However noble this man may have been by race, in his soul he was more uncultured than the roughest peasant.”
Begging was doubly difficult in Bohemia by reason of Johann’s ignorance of the language. Having asked a schoolfellow for the polite form in which to address a. woman, the wretch took advantage of the opportunity to play a practical joke, by teaching him some unseemly expression. He had occasion, soon afterward, to make use of it, and the young woman he addressed was so angry that she seized the nearest chair and flung it at his head. In his haste to escape, he trod upon two young geese, trampling them to death, — a circumstance that did not tend to excuse his conduct. This young woman, he afterward discovered, was the sister of the youth who had practiced upon his credulity. Thus was guilt revisited upon its author in a manner that happens seldom in this unpoetic world.
Johann’s protector was happiest in a school of small hoys, where his bodily strength was accepted as a sufficient guarantee of his intellectual eminence. The outbreak of the plague in Masehau, however, soon drove them off ; and on the way back to Eger, where there was a good school, they stopped for nearly three weeks to bathe in some wonderful warm springs, now the famous watering place Carlsbad. In Eger they were admitted to the school, and received outside help from a rich couple whose children they were to assist in their studies. Here, at last, Johann might have hoped to enjoy something like rest and advantage, had not the student determined to render his lot uncomfortable. “ It is not befitting,” so said his tormentor, " that a fag like you should find in a foreign land such speedy advancement, and enjoy all at once better days than your master.” Accordingly, he was sublet to two other students, for whom he was required to procure food on the same hard terms. Rebelling against this, he was stripped of his clothes, beaten with birches, and left naked over night. Unable to endure the hard treatment any longer, he fled to the house of the rich merchant whose children were his fellow-pupils, and begged for protection against his persecutors. The rich man accorded it, and drove back a band of students that assembled before his house to effect the capture of the young prisoner. But the students found means to let Johann know that his life would not be safe if he tarried longer in Eger, and the little fellow took the first opportunity of running away, and managed to reach Carlsbad in safety. Here he met two other children, who told him that their protectors had been hanged for theft.
The break between Johann and the student was a definite one, and they never met again. Butzbach, on his return to his own country, heard of him once, as a dissolute, idle fellow, who had brought his studies to no good; but he had never ventured to show himself in Miltenberg, where his father had come to a bad end, and where his own reputation had preceded him.
But in breaking away from the student Johann had also cut adrift from his studies. He found himself, a child of twelve, alone in a foreign land ; and he was not destined to return to the life of study, as a preparation to which he had already made so many sacrifices, until he was twenty-one. In the mean time a life full of adventure and uncertainty opened before him. He began it as a waiter at the inn of Carlsbad; but he had not been there more than a few weeks before he was carried off by a Bohemian nobleman to a country estate, where he learned to speak the language and to act as squire to his master. A friend of this nobleman, a “ very bad heretic,” Butzbach calls him, begged and received him as a gift; but Hans found services expected of him to which he could not reconcile his conscience, and lost no time in escaping back to his first master. This man also sometimes found the youngster’s conscience inconvenient, and once, as a punishment, confiscated all his clothes, and refused to return them until he offered some stolen article as fair equivalent. Once again, in the absence of the master, the servants gave themselves up to riotous living; and in order to throw the suspicion upon him, they filled his pockets with almonds and raisins, which, when he was discovered eating them, led to his being beaten by four peasants until the blood came. Much of his time was spent on horseback, but his natural timidity rendered this more a torment than a pleasure. He was often thrown, he tells us, by the horse barking itself against the trees, and no less frequently flogged for refusing to gallop. The woods, in those days, were infested by robbers, and the master, when he had a journey to make, gave strict orders that he should be followed, whether he decided for flight or fight. He was apt to try resistance at first; but when the robbers got out their shrill whistles, with which they summoned the rest of the band, he called on his followers to put spurs to their horses and lend all their energy to escape. The description of one of these ruffians accords not badly with the ideas obtained from the stage costuming of the present day. “ He had,” says the chronicle, “ a long sword in his right hand, a shorter broadsword in his left, a double axe on his back, and a coat of mail about his shoulders.”
The next event in Johann’s life was his transference, as a “ little present,” to a certain Pan 1 Shefforsyt, who took him to his estate, about six miles distant from the city of Prague. A visit to Prague, soon after his arrival here, is made the occasion of a long digression concerning the customs and manners of the Bohemians, with some scanty references to their history taken from other books, particularly from the well-known account of Æneas Silvius. The reigning sovereign, at the time of Butzbach’s visit, was Ladislaus II., a Catholic prince, whose efforts against the prevailing heresy were so moderate as to bring him into suspicion among the leaders of the Church. He died in 1516, after a reign of forty-five years. Butzbach has much to say of a splendid monastery, then already in ruins, on the bank of the Moldau, the walls of which contained the entire Bible in the Bohemian tongue. Of the language, he says it was supposed to be one of the seventy-two in use at the Tower of Babel, and hence the oldest of the Slavic tongues. The Bohemians value it so highly that all the sacred books are translated and all religious services held in it. As examples, he subjoins copies of the Creed and Pater Noster, with an accompanying injunction to his brother not to laugh at the gibberish of the tongue, but to remember that the subject-matter is sacred. The people, he says, when praying, spread out their hands to heaven, and do not use beads. They seldom pray for the dead, and admit children and simple persons to communion. Holy water is not in use. “ The main articles of their heresy,” he remarks, “ they are supposed to have from the gospel commentary of a certain Englishman, John Wycliffe, to which articles others, such as Johann and Hieronymus Huss, contributed later.” After some quotations from Æneas Silvius, he goes on: “In earthly goods they have much good fortune and prosperity. What they have to hope for in heaven is a matter of grave doubt; ” and he adds the pious wish that they may turn from their errors, and help restore the old Bohemia, which was once one of the brightest gems in the Church’s diadem. In the matter of fasting they are as particular as the most devout adherents of the old Church. “ A Bohemian,” says Butzbach, “ is as bold to steal a horse out of the stable as to eat an egg on Friday,” and they abstain from milk not only every Friday, but throughout Lent.
Of worldly goods, as has been already remarked, the Bohemians had a generous share. Butzbach is quite amazed at the fatness of the land, and the amount of food consumed daily by even the poorest of the population. “ A pig in Bohemia,” he says, “ gets more saffron to eat in a year than a man in Germany in his whole life.” No one had less than four dishes at dinner, and the same number again at tea, and bread and cheese with milk were eaten as vesper-bread between the two. The very wealthy were frequently so weighted with their own corpulence as to be obliged, if they would stand upright, to keep themselves bound about with tight bandages. Beer and wine were both produced in the country, but the wine imported from Hungary was preferred. " Old beer” was made so thick that it could be used for glue. Some barrels of jellified beer were found once in excavating a cellar that had fallen in, and the substance, after the crust had been bored through and then restored to liquid form, is pronounced by Butzbach to have been the best drink ever known. The system of “treating” and drinking healths was not in force, and our author notes that there was much more moderation in drinking than in eating. It was a custom among the peasants to come to town to eat white bread and drink beer until their appetites were satisfied, when they would begin to hum gently, gradually increasing the noise until it resembled the whinnying of a horse. Even the nobles indulged in this last practice, and when, in the presence of women, they wished to be gallant, they knew no better way than by careering about on their horses, uttering these mad sounds. The women, apparently, found it very amusing, and encouraged them in the wildest excesses. In the cities serenades were popular, and the nights were full of hideous discords, but this practice was less affected among the nobility. The dress of the peasants was of some simple kind of cloth, and instead of wearing shoes they bound the feet and legs with pieces of hide, which were fastened under the knee with straw. Women and girls wore bright neckerchiefs and ribbons with gold thread in them. In winter they wore long body-coats of fur, sometimes with capes or hoods. The city folk wore long clothes and tall fox-skin caps, under which their hair fell in curls, or else was gathered in with bands of linen or ribbons. Both men and women were very careful of their hair, and wore it as long as possible. The country was very cold in winter, and the pine-board houses were kept warm by great stone ovens. When, in the morning, fire was lighted in these, the family withdrew into the open air, until the smoke had had a chance to dissipate itself through the open windows and door. Pine torches placed in metal holders supplied the interior with light.
Hans remained with this master for three years, and then left him to become a retainer of the Lord of Chulm. By the country folk he was kindly treated, going by the title, accorded out of deference to his foreign origin, of Mr.” Hans, but from his master he bad many hard words to endure. In his new position, he came promptly into disfavor through his obstinate refusal to recognize the woman with whom his master lived as lawful lady of the house. In the absence of any better pretext, offense was taken at his distributing the crumbs that remained on the table to the washerwoman’s eliildren, and he was deprived of his best clothes and put under watch. Ill this emergency he had recourse to a witch, who advised him on the best means of escape. She told him that the journey would take a day and a night, and must be made on the back of a black cow. He was sorely tempted to accept her assistance ; but fear of being injured by the devil, and possibly reluctance to mount the cow, led him to refuse. At Easter, in order that he might make a proper appearance before the guests expected at the castle, his clothes were returned to him. He had, however, little opportunity of making use of them. A few days later, he accompanied one of the family to a neighboring town, where he fell in with a German pilgrim returning to his own country. Forgetful of his duties, he follows this man, enthralled by his conversation, beyond the town gates. It is now too late to return, and a heavy punishment, no doubt, awaits him on the morrow. He puts his case to the pilgrim, and is advised by him to “take his legs on his shoulders ” and flee in the opposite direction. Hans quickly makes up his mind for flight, and reaches that night the house of a pious tanner, who takes him in and washes the dust from his feet. Through him he sends back, the next day, some silk he had been commissioned to buy for one of the ladies of the house.
From this point he made his way by slow stages, Stopping often to gain his livelihood by serving as weaver, as tanner’s apprentice, and as butcher’s boy, to the German frontier, By the butcher he was not released from his employment until he could procure a lamb as compensation. At Brüx, on the frontier, he engaged himself as an interpreter. He returned to Germany after five years’ absence, not as a doctor, or even a Latin scholar, but as a barbarian, with long blond hair down to his waist, and outlandish clothes and manners. From Carlsbad to Nuremberg he traveled in a private coach, having hoodwinked the driver with a false account of his wealthy parents in Miltenberg, who had received the Emperor at their house, and would pay him well for his pains in providing for their son’s transport. Arrived at Nuremberg, the man wished to take him the rest of the way, and Hans only escaped by a lucky accident the embarrassment involved in this plan. An old patron insisted upon the driver’s conveying his family and himself back to Carlsbad. It was arranged, therefore, that the driver should visit Miltenberg later to claim his reward, in the mean time entrusting his young charge to the care of some Miltenberg merchants then tarrying in Nuremberg. Some of these were old friends of Butzbach’s father, and, on receiving a hint from the young man, lent a valued corroboration to his story. From them he heard of his father’s death, but his grief was so violent and despairing that they quieted him by declaring that the news was false. On arriving at Miltenberg, he learned that his father had been dead for five years, and that his mother had been remarried for a period almost as long. His stepfather received him kindly, and he found that his mother had never forgotten her love for her first-born. They cut his hair, gave him new clothes, and sent him to church to partake of his first communion.
It was determined, after a little, that Johann should be educated to the tailor’s trade, and he was sent, accordingly, to Aschaffenburg for his apprenticeship ; six gold guldens and twenty ells of cloth being paid to a masterman tailor for his support. Here he was kept busy from three in the morning till ten at night, attention to the housework being included among his duties. The presence of the court at the castle gave the tailor plenty of work, and Butzbach complains of the “coats of arms, embroidery, and all kinds of foppish finery ” that so much increased the difficulty of their profession. One practice he notes, common, he tells us, to all tailors of the time, which met with the reprobation of his conscience. This is what was called ” fillinothe eye,” the eye being a large basket kept under the table to receive the scraps of cloth cut off with the shears, The tailors always assured their customers that there was not enough of the material left to fill an eye with;” meaning, of course, the basket, but being understood literally. Johann was also made to steal wax from the church candles, — an operation naturally repugnant to his firm religious instincts. He left Aschaffenburg as soon as he was well grounded in his trade, going to Frankfurt and Mayence. At the latter place he was engaged as laybrother tailor to the monks of St. John the Baptist at the Johannisberg monastery in the Rheingau. The worldly tailor, his predecessor, had turned out a thief, and the monks were glad to obtain a good workman to dwell with them, and to take part in the household service. His duties, beside tailoring, were to draw water and buy eggs; and he was required, at times, to do errands in the neighboring towns. The routine was very severe, all being obliged to rise every morning at four to attend chapel, and to maintain in the dormitory and at table a silence broken only by reading aloud from the Bible. A violation of the rules on the part of any brother was punished by deprivation of the two cups of wine allotted him each day. The quiet life at this place, affording him leisure for reflection, and the influence of men given to habits of scholarship, awakened in Butzbach a fierce desire to return to those paths of learning in which it had been intended that his course should lie ; and this desire, strengthening with time, induced him at length to leave the monastery ami proceed to Deventer, in the Netherlands, where Alexander Hegius, the teacher of Erasmus, was then conducting his celebrated school. Johann, now a tall youth of twenty-one, was assigned to the seventh class, with the little boys ; but he was too poor to remain, and was forced to return to Johannisberg. He had settled dow n to the old life, not indeed contentedly, but with some degree of resignation, when a visit from his mother brought him a new and unexpected hope of release. The good woman could not resign herself to her son’s remaining a common lay brother, and had undertaken the journey to bring him money and to entreat the abbot to allow him to depart. Her prayers were of no avail, and she was obliged to return without having accomplished her object. Johann, however, persevered in his supplications after her departure; and the abbot, moved by his steadfastness of purpose, and the hunger after knowledge to which he confessed, finally relented and gave his permission. ‘‘Go, then, my son, in the name of the Lord,” he said at parting; “ the wish of thy mother shall be fulfilled. Apply thy energy and diligence to thy studies, and bring them to completion. ’Then return to us, and the order is open to thee.”
Light, of heart, Johann left the monastery, and returned to his home before setting forth on his second journey to the Low Countries. All were delighted at the step he was about to take. His stepfather presented him with five guldens, and not deeming this sufficient demanded from his wife the coin he had given her as an engagement gift. On her refusal to surrender it, he lost his temper, and after giving her a beating took it, away from her by force, and presented it to Johann. The young man took it in order to avoid a new disturbance, but gave it back to his mother in secret. The father afterwards came to his senses, and all parted in amity. At the school Johann rose quickly from the eighth to the sixth class, and came by Easter to the fifth. He lived in the house of a very pious spinster, by name Gutta Kortenhorff, who took in penniless students and gave them their board for charity’s sake. This extraordinary woman not only wore a hair shirt next to her body, but carried besides a heavy chain, as a sort of perpetual penance. Like St. Francis of Assisi, she took delight in nursing patients suffering under the most loathsome complaints, and carried her devotion to the extent of kissing the most revolting sores. Young Butzbach suffered almost continually, during his stay at Deventer. Disease, extreme poverty, and the severity of the weather brought him a succession of troubles that made life little better than a torment. Often he was on the point of renouncing his studies, and returning to the monastery without the qualifications for his admission into the order ; but something always intervened to change his purpose. About a year after his entrance into the school, it was a swollen foot that prevented him from carrying out a plan of running away. He remained, and advanced to the fourth class; and from this he passed to the third, taught at this time by the celebrated Master Bartholomæus of Cologne, who, although already renowned, continued to pass his nights in studying, “ like an ignorant person,” and steadfastly refused all titles of distinction; declaring such things to be the empty adornments of knowledge which the wise man knew how to do without.
Butzbach was still in the third class, under the careful training of Master Bartholomæus, when the “ Pater Œconom ” of the abbey of Laach came to Deventer to seek novices among the students. It was already late in the season, December of the year 1500 being close at hand, and the students, having engaged their lodgings and paid their tuition fees for the winter, were unwilling now to enter into new arrangements. With great difficulty, the reverend father succeeded in getting one student to promise to go with him to Laach. In the making of this single convert, Butzbach, to whose heart the honor of the Benedictine order lay near, had been of great assistance, and the monk now turned to him with an earnest entreaty that he might himself delay no longer in giving up his life to God. To the young student, with a mind eager to absorb all the knowledge offered him by his age, the temptation to remain at Deventer was doubtless a mighty one. The proposal of the father involved also his renunciation of the retreat awaiting him at Johannisberg. On the other hand, his sufferings at Deventer and the hardships he was still called upon to endure may have influenced his decision to yield to the father’s request. His masters all commended him for this decision; but he left Deventer sorrowfully, not forgetful of the pain he had suffered there, but mindful of the faces he was unlikely ever to see again. Accompanied by a throng of his fellow-students, who followed them to the gates, Butzbach and his two companions took leave of the town, and set out upon their journey along the banks of the Rhine. With much fear they crossed the river on the ice, and came to the cloister of Neuss, distinguished from all other institutions of its kind by a regulation that forbade the reception of any person bearing the Christian name of Peter. Butzbach devotes a couple of chapters to descanting upon the injustice of this, but is unable to mention a cause for it. At Cologne they halted to buy some pictures, as well as to rest awhile from their weariness; then they traveled further to Bonn, Andernach, and the abbey on the island of Niederwerth. In Coblenz Butzbach lingered with the steward of the monastery to purchase supplies, while the other novice was sent ahead with a lay brother. They did not expect to overtake them until evening, but at the very first roadside tavern the two were found overcome by the effects of a good dinner and too much Rüdesheimer wine. They had spent, to the last groschen, the money entrusted to them, and there was now hardly enough left with which to pursue the journey to Laach. The road was so muddy that Butzbach’s fellow-student kept slipping and falling in the mire. He himself felt his courage giving way, and found his spirit beset with temptations to turn aside and make his way alone to the Johannisberg retreat. He dismissed these temptations, however, as whisperings of the Evil One, and kept manfully on the path he had chosen for himself. They-arrived on the eighteenth day of December, and were received by the noble abbot, Simon von der Leyen. Butzbach, in crossing the threshold, said, “ Hæc requies mea in sæculum sæculi, hic habitabo, quoniam elegi cam ; ” and as he spoke the last word, his foot slipped on the polished floor, and he fell to the ground. The other student laughed so much at poor Butzbach’s mishap that he was unable to bring out a word. Both were given clothes, and put on probation until St. Benedict’s Day, the 21st of March. Before that time Butzbach’s fellow-novice had weakened in his determination to renounce the world, and had taken secret departure from the monastery. His falling away had the effect of emphasizing to Butzbach the importance and irrevocability of the step he was about to take, and lent discouragement to his first efforts to habituate himself to the solitary monastic life. But in time he grew to find delight in his new surroundings. The monastery he calls a paradise on earth, praising the noble architecture of its buildings, — church, dormitory, refectory, and library,— and its fine outlook over the wooded hills, with a little lake at the bottom of the valley. His year of novitiate came to an end in 1502, and he was admitted to the order and ordained in the following year at Trier.
With an exhortation to his brother to pursue the paths of learning, not neglecting the care of his soul, Butzbach brings his little book to a close. It was finished on the 1st of April, 1506. In an appendix Mr. Becker has collected what information he could find concerning Butzbach’s life at Laach, and we may note briefly the chief facts of his later career. He was selected by his superior, during the first years of residence, to teach the novices. Feeling painfully conscious of his unfitness, he wished to refuse, but his vows constrained him to obey. He then applied himself to reading anew all the Latin authors, besides a translation of the Cabala and the works of the fathers of the Church. The monastery library being somewhat deficient, he supplied his needs by borrowing from one Nicholas von Bensrodt, the private secretary of the Count of Virneburg, whose castle was near by. This man had studied in Paris under Erasmus, and became a valued friend of Butzbach’s, leaving him some of his books on his withdrawing, unexpectedly, to a monastery to end his life. Another friend was Jacob Siberti, a distinguished Humanist, who came by Butzbach’s inducement to Laach, and soon took his place as teacher of the novices. To Butzbach was now given the charge of the refectory and of the clothes chamber, the conduct of services in the Nicholas Church, and the duty of preaching in Laach and in a neighboring village. In 1507 he became prior, and the care of the whole monastery fell upon his shoulders. Night was the only time left him for study, and he and Siberti lingered often into the morning over their precious folios. His writing years were from 1505 to 1512 ; in this short time he produced an almost incredible number of dissertations, poems, and monographs on various subjects. His main works, beside his poems, all in the Latin tongue, are a book of illustrious women, and another of celebrated painters ; a volume devoted to the praises of the Humanist Triphemius and his vindication from the attacks of his enemies ; his own apology, read at his trial, to be mentioned shortly ; and the great Auctarium, or Catalogue of Ecclesiastical Authors, begun in 1508, and not finished until 1513, — this last a really complete and exhaustive dictionary of the subject, the preparation of which involved great knowledge and immense labor.
Butzbach was accused in 1509 of having neglected his duties as prior in order to carry on his studies. He wrote a defense of his conduct, and was ordered by the judges to produce the results of his labor. Amazed at the amount he had achieved, they ordered his acquittal. The whole proceeding of the accusation was an unworthy plot of the lazy monks, who bore him ill will because of his constant efforts to get them to work. With all his additional labor, it was discovered that he was not so behindhand in his duties as they. The last ten years of his life he gave to the study of theology, which he considered the queen of the sciences, to which all others were as stepping-stones. He remained a stout defender of the classics, likening them to the rich gems that the heathen kings thought not unworthy to be laid at the feet of the Babe in the manger. After the completion of his Auctarium, he seems to have given up writing altogether ; and it is probable that these last years were filled with weakness and disease, resulting from the privations, illnesses, and overwork of his early life. In one place he says that he never had a well day in Laach. At his death, which occurred in the year 1526, a band of blessed spirits, headed by St. Scholastiea, appeared to him, keeping watch about his bedside. They held converse with him, but he said that he was forbidden to divulge the nature of their communications. He died in great peace with his brethren, the rest of the world, and his own soul.
No more sympathetic, if many more striking, figures than Butzbach are to be found among the Humanists of the sixteenth century. Bringing his life to a close just as Luther was starting in upon the career that was destined to revolutionize the culture no less than the faith of the world, he was not called upon to take sides in the fight. If he had been, there is no reason to suppose that his course would have been different from that of the other leaders in the movement in which he took part. The great majority of the Humanists held aloof from Luther, repelled by the roughness and impetuous quality of his genius, which, they foresaw, if allowed to prevail, would throw into the background the literary and classic revival they held so near at heart, in substituting for it the mighty question of church reform. Devoted to their own pursuits, they saw, probably, less than others of the corruption that had invaded the mother Church, and certainly thought it not too great to be cured by skillful treatment from within. Men of peace, they naturally recoiled from violent measures of remedy, and the Church, in their eyes, containing within its bounds, as it had for centuries, all the learning of which the world could then make boast, must have borne an appearance different from that which it presented to the lay, or even the average clerical, point of view. Butzbach, we may be sure, would have shared hut slightly in the restless strivings of the new era in the Church, and we may be permitted to rejoice that death spared him a realization of the strength of the storm impending over the institutions he loved.
J. Kirke Paulding.
- “ Pan ” is the Bohemian for “ Mr. ”↩