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From A Literary Source-book of the German Renaissance, by Merrick Whitcomb, PH. D., University of Pennsylvania; 1900; pp. 80-99.
Robbed of my parents and homeless, a living image of grief and sorrow, sobbing and crying aloud ceaselessly, I followed with hesitating steps the student striding on before. If I failed at any time to come to his bidding, he became ever freer with his harsh words and bitter reproaches as the way lengthened that separated us from home. In this way he wounded still more my lacerated spirit. Indeed, he was by nature of unusual harshness, and the less cause he had to fear my escape, on account of the growing distance from home and my increasing ignorance of the way, the more he sought to hold me in check with fear and at the same time to spur me on with threats. After a marc of two good miles, which indeed was no trifle, as they say, especially as in this instance, they separated two creatures inspired with mutual love, we came from Miltenberg at nightfall to the village of Külsheim, already mentioned. Wearily I followed the student into the best inn that the place afforded.
As we entered into the door of the inn, the landlord came forward to meet us, and very prudently inquired from what country we were come, whither we were bound and what might be our wish. The student gave him little satisfaction, but asked him if he could accommodate us. To this the landlord replied: “If your money is good, and you are good drinkers, you will be welcome guests.” The student rejoined: “The money is all right. Just have the table prepared and an abundance to eat and drink set forth.” “You talk well,” replied the landlord, “and I will do with pleasure what you ask. I wish, however, that there were more of you; for, hoping that guests would arrive, I have prepared a more than usually sumptuous meal for this evening.” When the student heard this he exclaimed: “That is a piece of good fortune, that you have prepared such abundant refreshment. I have here several relatives, with whom I shall be glad to pass a merry evening once more before my departure; and since they are in service and not well-to-do, I will pay the whole reckoning, and you may rest easy on that score.” “A bargain!” cried the landlord. “I will have them summoned at once.”82
The guests did not keep us waiting, but set themselves to the table and showed themselves valiant trenchermen. The student took no heed of what might become of his poor little companion. When the landlord inquired: “Where is the young fellow that came with you?” the student looked about him and replied: “I think he must have gone to sleep there behind the stove, tired out with the journey. Let him sleep and rest out. Sleep will do him more good than food.”
I was not asleep, however, as he said; but I dared not express the feelings his words aroused. During the day, occupied with preparations for the journey, I had eaten very little, nor had I desired to eat. Now I was hungry, but I dared not come to the table without an invitation from the student. At the same time the gnawing in my stomach and the pangs of hunger let me neither sleep nor rest. I pretended to sleep, however, and surrendered myself patiently to my fate, picturing to myself my wretched and abandoned condition. When the meal was over, the student paid the reckoning for all the guests out of my money, just as though it had been his own. What could I say? What had I the courage to do or think under the circumstances? He regarded me as something delivered over to him, sold to him, indeed, as some estray that he had picked up and made his property.
Early in the morning we got under way and came to the town of Bishofsheim, two miles distant. There we took a bite and wandered on our way to Windsheim, an imperial city. As we entered the town I was lost in admiration of the massive walls, the houses high as the heavens, and the churches and towers, the like of which I had never seen in our native town or elsewhere.
On the following day we journeyed further and came to the city of Longenzenn. Here we were affectionately received by a citizen of the town, a weaver, who not long before had worked for several years with my father. By him we were entertained and otherwise hospitably treated. We conveyed to him the heartfelt greetings of our parents, as they ad urgently requested. He consoled me for the separation from my parents as if I had been his own child, and succeeded in quieting my grief. He never tired of cheering my saddened spirit with friendly conversation; 83 nor did he cease to soothe my wounded heart with gentle words, and cleverly cited as an example the fact that he, and my father as well, and many other persons, both of the worldly and of the spiritual order, of whom I knew, had been obliged to endure much in foreign countries, in order to learn something. The next morning, refreshed and consoled, he set me upon my way, once more urgently commending me to the student’s care. Thence I wandered on with my little pack, along the hard and weary and unknown way, trotting ever along behind the student, to Nuremberg, a famous seat of trade and industry.
When at last I saw from the distance the towers and the blue smoke of Nuremberg, it almost seemed to me that I was looking, not at a single city, but at a whole world. I thought we had only a mile to go; but when we inquired of some people whom we met on the road how far it was, they replied that it was still three miles. It was not so much the distance as our impatient desire to reach the city, whose image lay before us on the horizon that made the way so unwelcome. In order to while away the time, the student related some incidents tending to exalt his individual prowess. A song or a story generally causes the wanderer to forget the tedium of the way. When toward evening we finally approached the city, we halted a little while under the walls, to prepare us for our entrance into the town. The student sought to spoil my expectations with his witticisms: “Since you have never been here before,” he said among other things, “it will be necessary to sew up your mouth.” When the tears rose in my eyes at this remark, he added: “Now follow me close behind and do not keep looking to this side and to that; and do not gape at the house-tops with open mouth. And look out that I do not have to wait for you ever now and then in the street, on account of your everlasting slowness, or when we come to the inn you will get a good thrashing.”
So I slunk into the city all of a tremble, exhausted with the effort of keeping up with my companion. With very tired and bruised feet I followed the student through many streets paved with sharp stones, while from all sides crowds of school boys fell upon me. Because I gave no answer to their shout: “Are you a student?” they held their hands to their foreheads, stretched out 84 like asses’ ears, and followed me in this manner all the way to the inn. When they learned, however, that we intended to stop in the city, they ceased from further persecutions and began extolling with fulsome praises their school above all other schools in the land.
When we arrived at a village, he sent me on to beg, and waited for me at the further end of the place. If I came back with empty hands, he beat me furiously and cried: “Aha! by Heavens, I will teach you to beg yet!” If, however, I had succeeded in getting something choice, he devoured it at once, and I got only what remained. So it went on the whole time that I stayed with him. Indeed, he was so suspicious that he often forced me to rinse my mouth with water and spit it out, that he might see if I had perhaps appropriated something good from my begging; for it often happened that kindly women, moved by my modesty and delicate youth, took me from the street into their houses, and when they had listened to the story of my misery and of my sad parting from my parents, they were moved with pity and gave me as rich refreshment as their own children enjoyed. This dissatisfied the student greatly, on account of his envious nature, and as often as it came to his knowledge that such a piece of fortune had happened to me in his absence, he fell upon me with fist and stick.
He compelled me to beg through places so foul and muddy, that I was obliged to wade up to my ankles, sometimes up to my knees in mud, and like one who treads dough, could go neither forward or backward. Sometimes I was attacked so savagely by watch-dogs that I believe, if the inhabitants had not come to my rescue, I should have been torn to pieces. The student himself had a great dislike for begging and did not practice it, recognizing that he would be laughed at by the peasant people as a great lazy rascal, and he did not care to soil himself with the mud, which he knew was very deep in these places during the rainy weather. Moreover, in order not to be bothered by the dogs, it was his habit to go around the villages through the fields and meadows, a thing which he could not permit me to do, by reason of my begging. This custom he adopted on the other side of 85 Nuremberg, and held rigidly to it until we came nearly to the town of Kaaden in Bohemia, and afterwards during the whole of the remaining time that I was with him on the journey.
In Kaaden we were invited by the rector of the school to take up our residence, and received one room for us both in the bursary. Shortly thereafter came two wandering students from Vienna with their schützen, and were shown into quarters with us. During the day, or at least what was left of the day, after the public lesson, the chorus and the begging, I stayed in our cell, but during the night we young schützen, as many as there were of us, used to remain in the common room, on account of the cold, and sleep on a wooden platform over the stove. Once I fell off the platform, and although I did quite as much injury to my head as to the stove, nevertheless I was thought to deserve a severe censure on account of the damage I was guilty of.
The student was overjoyed at his unexpected good fortune. My own, however, seemed to him even better, aroused his envy and anger. “It is not becoming,” he said, “that a schütze like you should be so quickly promoted among strangers, and see better times than I myself;” and since he had no longer any need, on account of his new position, of my services in begging, he handed me over to two other big students, for whom I was to forage during the winter. I complained of this to the lad who had been entrusted to me, and he told his parents, whereupon they advised me to come home with their son immediately after school and let the others go. After I had done this a few times, against the commands of the student, he caught me one day as we were coming from school, and together with his companions dragged me to their quarters, where they tore the clothes from my body, beat me for a long time, with rods upon my naked skin, and then left me tied in the room in the severe cold until the next day. Next morning he asked me if I was disposed to attend my duties with the students, and I made haste to answer that I was. Then he unbound me, turned me over to his companions with threats and curses, and went his way to his dwelling.
Thus was my lad obliged to go to school alone that morning. When he learned what had happened to me, he hastened to acquaint his parents with the facts. The following evening, when we had returned from school, I related to them, at their request, all that had taken place, and they were much moved with compassion for me. They ordered me to remain in the house, to await whatever might occur. The student, however, when he became aware, both from the complaints of his fellow-students, to whom he had sold me, and from my absence as well, of what had transpired, fell into a great rage, and came the following morning to our house, together with a great company of students and schützen. They succeeded in making their way to the upper story, where we were, when the father opposed them with weapons in his hands, let drive at them promiscuously, and drove them out of the house and court-yard, calling after them that they should not presume again to enter there.
But alas for me! After this occurrence I knew not which way to turn. I had the courage neither to go to school nor even to run an errand out of doors, because my students sent me word that they would tear me to pieces, if they could catch me anywhere. Out of fear I gave up school, fled secretly from the city and betook me to the baths.† There I served the guests at an inn until the new year, when I was kidnaped by a Bohemian noble.
Thus was I forced, through the cruelty of my student, to give up school and the study of the sciences, since I could no longer endure his godless treatment of me; I, who had been so urgently recommended to him by my parents. Neither of us has met the other face to face since that time, nor have I ever learned what became of him. At the baths, however, I came across two schützen, who formerly had shared my room in the bursa at Kaaden, and they related that their students had been hanged for theft, committed at some place or other. Then the thought came to me, that something of the kind might have happened to mine. If this ever came to pass at a later time — which indeed I should not wish to happen — at least it was not necessary that he should have degenerated, for his father came to the gallows at home on account of theft. In the meantime I have heard, that 87 after my departure he came once into the neighborhood of our native place, but did not enter the town, both on account of his shame, because his father had been hanged, and because he had lost me. His friends, to whom he contrived to send word secretly, went out to him, and with them my people, who had learned of his coming. When he was unable to answer their pressing inquiries as to where he had left me, and became involved in even greater contradictions, he took the first opportunity of getting away from them, and from that day to this he has never shown himself at our home.
Behold, you have before you all the misery to which I was exposed from my seventh to my twelfth year under the schoolmaster’s rod, and you have seen what fidelity that wretched student, after all the careful recommendations of my parents, exhibited toward me in the midst of strangers. May the almighty God forgive him for that which he has done. Amen.
While occupied with the duties and exercises of a lay brother,‡ my inclination toward the higher functions of the brethren grew apace, and I deeply bewailed my misfortune, that I had been obliged to give up my studies. This did not escape the attention of the younger brethren, who had but recently come from the schools, and they secretly advised me to betake myself to Deventer. There was in our convent an elderly monk, Peer Schlarp by name, a very diligent and learned man, who gave me a letter of introduction to the rector of the high school at Deventer, Alexander Hegius.
Fortified with this letter I set out, although the abbot interposed some objections, and expressed himself as having no confidence in my success. In the preliminary examinations I was unable to answer the questions put to me, but because they were so astonished at the good and correct Latin of my letter of introduction 88 I was put into the seventh grade, where I set out to master the rudiments of grammar, along with the little boys. But through want, hunger and cold I came into such distress that I was obliged again to give up the studies I had undertaken. With a few comrades, upon whose advice I acted, I left the place. Two noble lords, Johann G——, who afterwards died of the pest, and his brother Frederick, who is still living, interceded for me, and I was taken back into the cloister, although previous to this I had laid aside the garb and entered the cloister of Eberbach, unmindful of the commands of the abbot to return. This cloister is said to have been founded by St. Bernard at the time when he was in that region as imperial legate. Thus I received a second time the habit of the order, and a further departure, or a continuance of my studies, was no more to be thought of.
In a quiet way I had about reconciled myself to remaining here forever, when it happened one day that I had occasion to accompany the abbot to Frankfort. Here we encountered my mother. She had heard that I was already a “Lollard,” had sought me in the cloister and had followed us with a heart full of sorrow. The whole day she interceded with the abbot, praying that she might be permitted to send me once more to school. But the abbot was not to be moved with the most urgent entreaty. When my mother saw that she could accomplish nothing in this way, she gave me money secretly and made me promise that upon our return I should leave the cloister, even against the abbot’s will.
We returned to our cloister. I had not the courage to beg for permission to go forth. Already I was thoroughly reconciled to remaining in my humble condition. Then it happened that the abbot, disturbed in his heart by the woman’s entreaty, came of his own accord to me. He spoke to me kindly, and said that I might undertake that which according to my knowledge and conscience seemed the better thing to do. All abashed at his graciousness, I confessed my fervent love for the sciences, and the desire, which had always animated my soul, to attain to the higher grades of the order.
Then the abbot said: “Go hence in the name of the Lord and remain ever steadfast in thy good resolve. Thy mother’s wish shall be fulfilled. Go with zeal and endurance to thy studies and 89 complete them; then come hither and the order will be open to thee.”
So for the third time I left the cloister and betook myself to my native town. I was a welcome guest with all my acquaintances; and when the people heard that I was going once more to school, there were certain masters who applauded my resolve and wished me luck. Others, on the contrary, thought I was too old and laughed at me. But my father expressed no little joy at the prospect, and gave me at once the money for the journey. Five guilders he gave me. Moreover he knew that my mother had still a very beautiful piece of money, which she had received from Hillig when he became engaged to her, and he urgently demanded I should have that too. But my mother was unwilling to give it up, and intended, without my father’s knowledge, to give me another guilder in its place. Thereupon a serious quarrel ensued between them, the result of which was that my mother was soundly beaten and her hair severely pulled. When I saw that, I threw down my pack and the rest of my money, and with my brothers and sisters rushed to my mother’s aid, against my father. I succeeded in dragging her from under his feet. Weeping bitterly, I left the house, and registered with myself a vow that after such occurrences I would never again set foot in any school, nor would I even go back to the cloister. Meanwhile my father’s anger had subsided, and when he came back once more to his senses, unable to endure the stings of conscience, he ran through the village in search of me. When at last he found me, he begged me, in the agony of his spirit, not to abandon my design. I might forgive him his offence, since he had done wrong through his effort to further my plans. I should be reconciled and go on with my undertaking, which had given him so much pleasure. Thereupon he handed me the guilder obtained with so many blows, and I accepted it for the sake of peace, meaning secretly to return it to my mother at a later opportunity, when she accompanied me to the boat.
Finally, I tore myself away. Our boat sailed down the Main and onwards down the Rhine. We changed masters both at Mainz and Cologne. Unusually favorable winds filled our sails, and after nine days we landed at Deventer. Again I was examined by the rector, and put into the eighth grade. There I sat beside six other grown-up schoolmates, who in consequence of 90 an insurrection had taken to study through fear; because a few days before our arrival a mob of seven thousand insurgents, who held a city in siege, had been overwhelmed by the Bishop of Maestricht and the Duke of Gueldres. A hundred of them had been condemned to death. These were executed on the day of my arrival and on the two days preceding, and I saw them still lying on the wheels. Of these schoolmates just mentioned, who entered upon their studies more out of fear than from any thirst for knowledge, only a few were steadfast. For the most part they were too slow of understanding and made no progress, while I strove night and day by diligent application to acquire a better degree of information.
It was not long before my classmates were dismissed. One of them, however, sat for four years in the same grade and scarcely learned to read, notwithstanding he dwelt with the teacher of his class, and had gone to considerable expense; but with no result. For my part, I had been in the eighth grade but a short time when I was permitted to pass over the seventh and to enter the sixth grade, and from this I came at Easter into the fifth. At that time I secured a place with the Brethren in the relief house, where only those from the fifth grade upward were received, and then only on condition that they intended to become monks. Moreover I was free to visit the house of a canon in the town, who was also provost at Zütphen, when I was in need; for before my entrance into the brotherhood house, while I dwelt in the city at the house of a very pious maiden lady, I had the opportunity, on several occasions, to be of service to the canon, by lending a helping hand to his sewing people,§ and on one occasion to the chief of his household. In addition to this I had made several other acquaintances, who were favorably disposed toward me, and in time of need and suffering gave me much aid and comfort.
During this time I had to struggle against many and various difficulties in the way of ill health and sickness; so that at times, in spite of all my eagerness for knowledge, I was half persuaded to give up the attempt. It seemed to me that never before, up to this time, had I been obliged to contend with such an insalubrious climate, and such a raw atmosphere as in this place, whereby I 91 was persecuted day by day with all kinds of torment and sickness, so continuously that I began to think seriously of hanging my studies on the nail and taking up again my old trade, if only to get away from this region and from its inhabitants. Now it was burning fevers, now tumorous affections, which threatened my life. Next came the quinsy, complicated with a swelling of the larynx; then the itch, and indeed in so horrible a form that my whole skin was stiff from it. In addition to this I often suffered from boils on various portions of my body. Then too I had a swelling of the feet, and often for considerable periods a swelling of the thigh. Finally I got help from a woman who possessed a knowledge of the art of healing. With an iron instrument she cut out the swelling from my thigh, which she called a “rose.” I was almost crazed with the pain of the operation. Moreover I lived in constant fear lest some misfortune, of which they at home were also fearful, should overtake me. Almost never did I fell myself secure, and when, as it often happens, the outbreak of war was apprehended, I feared lest I should be obliged to return home before the completion of my studies, still ignorant of the sciences, an object of ridicule to those who were of the opinion I would derive no benefit from my studies, and who, when I went seriously about it, looked upon me as insane. Moreover, it was daily rumored that the pest was at hand. At the outbreak of the pest or of war it was the custom to send scholars out of the town. Furthermore, I suffered much from an itching malady, called “fig-warts,” which covered the body like the bark of an oak tree. Moreover, I was constantly pestered with many other untoward conditions, with which the enemy, with divine permission, overwhelmed me, in order to bring me from my undertaking, if such were possible. Strengthened, however, with the instructions of the pious Brethren of the Common Life, who interested themselves in the affairs of scholars with so much affection and with so much success; fortified also with the consolations of pious people, I overcame, thank God, all these tribulations with patience, and put to shame the treacherous enemy with all his machinations.
Now that all these sufferings have been lived down, I dwell upon them in my thoughts with much pleasure, because I believe that they were all sent me for the purification and advancement of 92 my soul. Five times, however, it happened, that at the instigation of others I was on the point of giving up my studies and returning home. It even went so far at one time — it was a year after my arrival and I was then Quintanus — that one morning I made my preparations to depart in company with certain comrades. Suddenly, on the evening of the same day, the swelling of my feet and the abscess, of which I have spoken, attacked me. A journey under the circumstances was out of the question. I remained and was promoted to the fourth grade. Now I thank God for this dispensation. Had I departed at that time no one would have been able ever to induce me to return to so much misery.
Two reasons in particular may be adduced, which determined me to hold out and bound me fast to the sciences: my father’s desire, while he was still living; and the prophecy, if I may call it so, of certain persons, that I should some time become a priest. The former was expressed at home; the latter at Johannisberg, while I was there as lay brother and cloister tailor; for on a certain occasion, while I was sitting at my work and engaged in confidential discourse with an elderly and invalid father, for whose care and service I was daily responsible; and while I was telling him how greatly to my sorrow I had been obliged, as a lad, to give up my studies — while, as I say, I was telling my story and lamenting that nothing had come out of my earlier studies and my desire to become a priest, a certain round piece of bread, which we call the host, and which I had fastened to the wall over against my work table, out of devotional feeling and from a desire to guard against the temptations to which the vigorous period of youth is especially subject, and also to have a remembrance of the sufferings of our Lord always before my eyes, this piece of bread, I say, to our great amazement, detached itself from the wall and fell to the floor. As the old man, who with shaking head sat behind the stove, perceived this, he stood up, in spite of the senile weakness which weighed so heavily upon him, and in a loud voice exclaimed: “See, Brother Johannes! This is without doubt a sign to thee of thy future priesthood! Thou shalt no longer doubt, but of a truth believe, that, when thou givest thyself again to study, this thing which has just happened shall have the meaning I have ascribed to it.”
He also foretold the day and the hour of his death, and even 93 after he was dead the brethren called him back to life, to make his confession.
His word I never forgot. A year passed before I again gave myself to study, and with my parents’ help returned to school, and with God’s grace and with the help of the blessed Virgin Mary, within four years according to the prophecy I became monk and priest. Now may this benefaction of God redound to the salvation of my soul, unworthy that I am, and the souls of my people, and to the glory of God! That is my most urgent wish.
The same was once said to my mother by a priest, a very worthy man and pastor in the town of Aschaffenburg, where once upon a time he brought me a chasuble to be repaired, and heard the deep sigh I uttered to God, as I tried it on and said: “Would that I too could be a priest.” Furthermore my continuance at study was largely due to my late father’s desire, who, living and dying, had expressed this as his especial wish. For this reason, during his life, he sent me to school, and on his deathbed he impressed this strongly upon my mother’s mind. After her death, when I had given up the tailor’s trade and was taking counsel with our friends, in reference to going back to school, the following occurred: One morning, as my brother Kunz and I arose and were dressing, my father’s spirit, just as he was in life, appeared in front of our room, remained standing a little time in the open doorway, and looked at me in an appealing way, as though he would say to me that I should carry out my plan, which had been for so long his dearest wish, without fear or hesitation. More than anything else was this occurrence a spur to my zeal and it impelled me to persevere in my studies. If, indeed, I had been in some respects too little obedient to my father in his lifetime, now I desired to make amends, since he so earnestly desired that I should be a priest. God grant that now, when I am one, it may contribute to the repose of his soul!
After this digression I shall now take up the thread of my narrative, and I wish to occupy some little space with the praise of Deventer itself, where I endured all the privations which I have mentioned.
The people are wonderfully kind toward the poor, to an extent which I have observed nowhere else; and pious withal and much 94 attached to religion. At the same time the town, by reason of its extensive trade with countries across the sea and with Holland and Zealand, is extraordinarily wealthy. May I be set down as a falsifier, if I have not known a citizen of the place, a great benefactor toward me and toward other poor people, who gave his daughter, upon the occasion of her marriage, a dowry of seventeen thousand guilders in hard cash. This same citizen’s wife was also a very upright woman and wonderfully charitable toward the poor and toward strangers. No day passed that she did not invite some six or seven needy clergymen to her well furnished table, not to speak of the alms which she was constantly giving to other poor men at her door. The kindness which this estimable woman showed me at the time of my sickness and need was truly remarkable, whether it be in the way of food, clothing and money, or with her cheering conversation. She and her family truly deserve to be rich, for they are not, as is the case with so many rich people, proud or miserly, nor do they place their trust upon the volume of their riches, but, gentle, generous and pitiful toward the prayers of the poor, they set their hopes upon God. And this noble city has many more such God-fearing people.
In addition to this it possesses an excellent constitution and a well-regulated government. Alexander Hegius, formerly director of the high school at Deventer, has sung the praises of the city in the following brief verses, which are moreover his latest composition:
As its patron saint the city reverences the holy confessor Leivin, once a monk of our order, and a pupil of St. Willibrod. In his honor was built a beautiful church, wherein his bones, together with those of certain other saints, as for example St. Margaret, 95 whose remains were brought from Rome, and St. Rathbod, bishop of Maestricht, and many others, have been decently laid to rest in a costly chest. The holy Leivin came from England, and was the first who won this land to the Christian faith. He dwelt on the Yssel, a tributary of the Rhine, and even at the present day his house is shown by people dwelling in that neighborhood; although, in truth, its appearance has much changed.
Besides the markets which are held at Deventer at various times of the year, the city has another advantage, whereby it has become famous, and rightfully so, far and wide, beyond all other cities of this region. This is due to its Latin school, renowned for a long time past, which, under the supervision of men of culture and ability, for a long time enjoyed great prosperity on account of its cultivation of the humanities. After the death of Alexander Hegius, of whom I have spoken above, a man of the profoundest learning, versed in three languages, and withal a philosopher and poet, who died in the year of our Lord 1498, the first year of my student life in Deventer — since that time (with sorrow I chronicle the fact), the school has declined greatly, as reports from there inform me.
That was indeed a man worthy of all praise, as in fact he has been so deservedly extolled, both living and since his death, by many distinguished men. Like a brilliant light he shone above the people through his uprightness, his comprehensive knowledge and his great gifts, superior to all his learned contemporaries. His former pupil, the illustrious Desiderius Erasmus, in his Adages pays high tribute to the great teacher. The accomplished Rudolph Agricola, in his time rector of the University of Heidelburg, and Johann von Dalberg, the cultured bishop of Worms, celebrate his brilliant gifts.¶
The school at Deventer has been of great value to the reformed orders, insomuch as it has supplied them with many educated and scholarly men So long as the school preserved its merited reputation, by means of good, thorough instruction and fundamental erudition, its graduates were everywhere eagerly sought. At that time you might see the better-prepared scholars and those 96 best grounded in the humanities streaming into the orders at Deventer and at Zwoll; and they were superior material to that which I now find in the first and second classes; although at present they read, it is true, a better selection of authors in the schools than formerly. For I have heard it remarked, that outside of the Parables of Alanus, the Morals and the Ethics of Cato, the Fables of Æsop and a few writers of this type, for whom they have very little respect at present, it was seldom that anything else was read. On the other hand, a strong effort was made to broaden the student’s mind by means of an inflexible industry, which yielded not to the greatest difficulties. Now, however, when all secondary schools, even the least important, are filled with the various admirable works of old and new classical writers, both prose and poetry, the ardor is nevertheless weakened, and students for the most part apply themselves to their work like the donkey to his lyre, as the Greeks say, ὂ���� ����� ����������. All-devouring time permits nothing to endure. Hence the phenomenon that the orders began to decline as the school approached its downward path. Still, since the reformation of the orders, which is not yet a hundred years old in any cloister, they say that many men of intellect have been sent forth from this school, who have been received and provided for in the various cloisters of this section of Germany.
But it is time to return to my previous narrative. I must close with what I have already said of Deventer; moreover, these things are well known to those who have devoted themselves to the various branches of learning, and have laid the foundations of a wider culture. Many such — with joy I chronicle the fact — share with me here the holy service and bear the yoke of the Lord. Some have returned to the world’s turmoil. But this digression, into which my love and my enthusiasm for the times gone by have led me, has been more extensive than I intended. Let us finally resume the course of our narrative.
I remained a half year in the fifth class, under the guidance of an excellent man, Master Gottfried, a Baccalaureus of both laws and Master of Arts. After an examination I rose to the fourth class, where I passed a year under the industrious and well-instructed Master Johann von Venray, and with his permission, although 97 I hardly deserved it, I came into the third class. This class was at that time under the charge of Master Bartholomew of Cologne, an unusually industrious and learned man. His writings, as well in prose as in verse, are admired by the greatest scholars and most highly praised; for he is a man of fine, broad mind, and of wonderful eloquence, and withal distinguished in many branches of knowledge. It seemed very strange to everybody that a man of his ability, versed in all departments of science, should keep to his studies, like a perfect ignoramus, with tireless industry deep into the night. He was fond of industrious pupils and very cheerfully did for theme what they desired; wherefore the energetic and zealous pupils, so far as I know, regarded him with so much love that, after they had devoted themselves to philosophic studies for several years in succession under so good a master and reader, and finally came to go away, they could hardly tear themselves from him. Although he indeed deserved it, yet he had never been honoured by any university with the master’s degree. For this reason he is at the present day a thorn in the side of many blockheads, who are proud of their empty titles, and his works have been criticised and unfavorably regarded as mere school exercises. In the meantime, as a true and genuine philosopher, he concerns himself not at all with such people, whose science consists merely in an empty title and certain externals, like a camel decked in purple. It is indeed better to possess the reality of knowledge than an empty name. What is a name without the thing itself? Of what avail are titles without ability? What avails an honor without the capacity? A characterization without the fact? Nowadays when any one, even without industry, has gone through his period of study, whether he knows anything of the essentials or not, it is an easy thing for him, by means of a present, to acquire the bachelor’s degree, or the dignity of master or doctor. Our teacher Bartholomew for his part held to the ideas of the ancients; he despised every modern usage, and valued an earnest career of study more than empty splendor. A cultured spirit was to him more than a brow bedecked. What value has the red beretta, when within the spirit is shrouded in the darkness of ignorance? In any case knowledge without the title is more to be valued than the mere title, in which so many rejoice, without the knowledge. But of this I have more to say elsewhere.
When as I have already remarked, I came to this highly cultivated 98 philosopher in the third class, I made up my mind to remain until Easter, when I would go home, and thence, with my parents’ permission, back to Johannisberg in the Rheingau, whence I had gone forth, at my mother’s urgent request, and upon the encouragement of the brethren, to my studies. I wished to see whether I might assume the higher garb of our order, instead of the humbler garment, which I had put aside, and be received into the circle of the fathers. Scarcely had I been six weeks in the class, however, when it happened that the worthy father steward of the island of Niederwerth near Coblenz came to Deventer. Besides the other business with which he was commissioned, he had been requested by our distinguished lord, the Abbot of Laach, to bring with him several scholars, who were willing to serve the Lord in that cloister, of which he had been already ten years the head, under his secure guidance, in the monkish garb, according to the rule. When he had presented his letters, addressed to the rector, he also expressed his solicitude concerning this matter in the house of the Brethren. Moreover in other towns of this region, where his business took him, he made careful inquiries in schools, bursaries and brotherhood houses, as well as with private citizens; seeking young clerks, so-called, endowed with a sufficient knowledge of the sciences, and disposed to leave their further study for the sake of God’s service, in order to devote themselves to the life of the cloister and to the investigation of holy writ. Something like three weeks elapsed, and as yet he had found no one who wished to accept his offer. Returning to Deventer, he considered it advisable to seek the cooperation of the rector, Master Ostendorp, who, as an eloquent and learned man, had succeeded the aforesaid Alexander in the government of the school. Master Ostendorp came at once to the third and fourth classes, and sought with eloquent words, such as stood to his command, to awaken enthusiasm among the scholars for the monastic life. First he spoke in praise of the Benedictines, then he spoke in terms of highest approbation of the abbey of Laach, as well as of the merit of its abbot. But all effort seemed in vain, so far as the scholars were concerned, for the lectures had already begun, and the auditors were inscribed with their new instructors. In many cases the lessons of the new classes had been begun, and the honoraria already discharged to the new instructors for the semester, and it was thought shameful and unbecoming to demand 99 these back from the rector and from the professors. Moreover, each one had already made his provision for food and lodging, and did not care to let these things go. Furthermore, it was an unsuitable time for traveling; a very great cold prevailed, which frightened every one from the project.
* The following selections are from the Hodoporicon or Little Book of Wandering. The sole manuscript of this autobiographical work of Butzbach is in possession of the library of Bonn.
† Butzbach had been accepted as a lay brother in the monastery of St. John the Baptist at Johannisberg.
§ After his return from Bohemia, Butzbach had been apprenticed as a tailor.
¶ Here follow selections from the poems of eminent humanists, written in honor of Hegius.
[Go to the entire Autobiography of Johannes Butzbach, translated by Seybolt and Monroe, on this site. It is wonderful. — Elf.Ed.]