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From A Literary Source-book of the German Renaissance, by Merrick Whitcomb, PH. D., University of Pennsylvania; 1900; pp. 47-62.
A. These are dreadful things that you tell. Is that sailing? God forbid that any such idea should come into my head.
B. Indeed, what I have related is mere child’s play compared with what you are about to hear.
A. I have heard more than enough of mishaps. I shudder while you narrate them, as though I myself were present at the danger.
B. Indeed, to me past struggles are pleasing. That night something happened which almost took away the captain’s last hope of safety.
A. What, I pray?
B. The moon was bright that night, and one of the sailors was standing on the round-top (for so it is called, I believe) keeping a lookout for land. A globe of fire appeared beside him. It is considered by sailors to be an evil omen if the fire be single, a good omen if it be double. In ancient times these were thought to be Castor and Pollux.
A. What have they to do with sailors? One of them was a horseman, the other a boxer.
B. Well, this is the view of the poets. The captain who was sitting at the helm, spoke up. “Mate,” said he, (for sailors address each other in this manner), “do you see what is beside you?” “I see,” he replied, “and I hope it may be lucky.” By and by the globe of fire descended along the rigging and rolled up to the feet of the captain himself.
A. Did he perish with fear?
B. Sailors are accustomed to strange sights. The globe stayed there a while, then rolled along the side of the vessel and disappeared down through the middle of the deck. About noon the 49 storm began to rage with greater fury. Have you ever seen the Alps?
A. Yes, I have seen them.
B. Those mountains are mole-hills compared with the waves of the sea. When we were lifted up on the crest of a wave, we might have touched the moon with our fingers. As often as we went down between the billows, we seemed to be going direct to the infernal regions, the earth opening to receive us.
A. Foolish people, that trust themselves to the sea!
B. The sailors struggled in vain against the tempest, and at length the captain, quite pale, came toward us.
A. That pallor presages some great evil.
B. “Friends,” says he, “I have lost control of my ship. The winds have conquered me, and nothing remains but to put our trust in God, and for every one to prepare himself for the last extremity.”
A. O speech truly Scythian!
B. “But first,” says he, “we shall relieve the ship of her cargo. Necessity, a stern mistress, commands this. It is better to save our lives, with the loss of our goods, than to perish along with our goods.” The truth of this was evident to us; and many vessels full of precious wares were thrown into the sea.
A. This was indeed a loss!
B. There was a certain Italian who had been upon an embassy to the king of Scotland; he had a box full of silver vessels, rings, cloth and silk garments.
A. Would he not compound with the sea?
B. No; he wished either to perish with his beloved wealth, or to be saved along with it; and so he refused.
A. What did the captain say?
B. “So far as we are concerned,” says he, “you are welcome to perish with your traps; but it is not right that we should all be endangered for the sake of your box, and rather than that we will throw you headlong into the sea, along with your box.”
A. A speech worthy of a sailor.
B. So the Italian also made his contribution, with many imprecations upon the powers above and those below, that he had trusted his life to so barbarous an element. A little later the winds, in no wise softened by our offerings, broke the rigging and tore the sails into shreds.
A. Alas! Alas!50
B. Again the sailor approaches us, —
A. With further information?
B. He greets us. “Friends,” says he, “It is time that everybody should commend himself to God and prepare for death.” When certain ones who had some knowledge of the sea asked him how many hours he thought he could keep afloat, he said he could not say for certain, but that it would not be above three hours.
A. This information was more serious than the former.
B. With these words he ordered all ropes to be severed and the mast cut with a saw close to the deck, and to let it go by the board together with the yards.
A. Why was this done?
B. Because, since the sails were gone or torn to pieces, it was a burden rather than a help. All our hope was in the helm.
A. What were the passengers doing meanwhile?
B. There you might have seen a miserable condition of affairs. The sailors, singing, “Salve, regina,” implored the Virgin mother, calling her star of the sea, queen of heaven, ruler of the world, harbor of safety, and flattering her with many other titles, which the holy scriptures nowhere attribute to her.
A. What has she to do with the sea, who never sailed, so far as I know?
B. Venus formerly had the care of sailors, because she was supposed to have been born of the sea; since she has ceased her care of them, the Virgin mother has been substituted for her, in her maternal, not in her virginal capacity.
A. You are joking.
B. Some fell down upon the decks and worshiped the sea, pouring into the waves whatever oil was at hand, flattering it not otherwise than we used to flatter an angry prince.
A. What did they say?
B. “O, merciful sea! O, most noble sea! O, most wealthy sea! Have pity, save us!” Many things of this sort they sang to the deaf sea.
A. Absurd superstition! What were the others doing?
B. Some were sufficiently occupied with sea-sickness; but most of them offered vows. Among them was a certain Englishmen, who promised mountains of gold to our Lady of Walsingham, if only he might touch land alive. Some promised many things to 51 the wood of the cross, which was in such a place; others again to the same in another place. The same was done in the case of the Virgin Mary, who reigns in many places; and they think the vow is of no avail, unless you name the place.
A. Absurd! as if the saints did not dwell in the heavens.
B. There were some who promised to be Carthusians. One promised to go to James, who lives at Compostella, with bare hands and feet, his body covered only with an iron coat of mail, begging his food besides.
A. Did nobody mention Christopher?
B. I could scarcely refrain from smiling when I heard one with a loud voice, lest he should not be heard, promise Christopher, who is in Paris, at the top of a church, a mountain rather than a statue, a wax candle as big as he himself. While he was bawling this out at the top of his voice, with now and then an additional emphasis, some acquaintance who was standing by touched him on the elbow and advised him, saying, “Have a care what you promise; for if you sell all your goods at auction, you will not be able to pay.” Then says he, in a lower tone, lest Christopher should hear: “Hold your tongue, fool; do you think I am in earnest? When once I have touched land, I will not give him a tallow candle.”
A. O, heavy wit! I take it he was a Dutchman.
B. No, but he was a Zealander.
A. I wonder that nobody thought of Paul the Apostle. He himself sailed, and when the ship was wrecked, leaped ashore; for he learned through misfortune to succor the unfortunate.
B. There was no mention of Paul.
A. Did they pray meanwhile?
B. Earnestly. One sang, “Salve! regina,” another “Credo in Deum.” Some there were who had especial prayers, not unlike magic formulas, against danger.
A. How religious we are in times of affliction! In times of prosperity neither God nor saints come into our head. What were you doing all this time? Did you offer vows to one of the saints?
B. Not one.
A. Why not?
B. Because I do not drive bargains with the saints. For what is it other than a contract according to form? “I will give this, 52 if you will do that; I will give you a wax candle, if I swim out of this; I will go to Rome, if you will save me.”
A. But you sought the protection of some saint?
B. Not even that.
A. Why not?
B. Because Heaven is a large place. If I commend myself to some saint, St. Peter for example, who is most likely to hear me first of all, since he stands at the door; before he goes to God and explains my case I shall be already lost.
A. What did you do, then?
B. I went immediately to the Father himself, saying: “Our Father who art in heaven.” None of the saints hears sooner than He, nor gives more willingly what is asked.
A. But in the meanwhile did not your conscience cry out against you? were you not afraid to call him Father whom you have offended with so many transgressions?
B. To tell the truth, my conscience did terrify me a little; but presently I gathered courage, thinking to myself as follows: There is no father so angry with his son, but, if he sees him in danger, in a river or lake, would seize him by the hair and draw him out upon the bank. Amongst them all no one behaved more quietly than a certain woman who had a baby in her arms, which she was nursing.
A. What did she do?
B. She was the only one who did not cry or weep or promise. Embracing her child, she prayed silently. In the meantime the ship struck now and then, and the captain, fearing lest it should go to pieces, bound if fore and aft with cables.
A. What a miserable makeshift!
B. Meanwhile an aged priest, sixty years old, whose name was Adam, comes forward. Casting off his clothes even to his shirt and his leather stockings as well, he ordered that we should prepare ourselves in a similar manner for swimming; and standing thus in the middle of the ship he preached to us out of Gerson the five truths concerning the usefulness of confession, exhorting us all to prepare ourselves for life or death. There was present also a Dominican. Those who wished confessed to these.
A. What did you do?
B. Seeing that confusion reigned everywhere, I confessed silently to God, condemning before him my unrighteousness and imploring his mercy.53
A. Whither would you have gone, if you had died thus?
B. I left that to God as judge; nor was I disposed to be my own judge; yet in the meantime I was not without some hope. While these things were going on, the sailor returns to us weeping. “Let every one prepare himself,” says he, “for the ship will not last us beyond another quarter of an hour.” For it was badly broken, and the sea was rushing in. A little later the sailor informed us that he saw a church tower, and advised us to pray to the saint for aid, whoever might be the patron of the church. All fall upon their knees and pray to the unknown saint.
A. If you had called him by name perhaps he might have heard you.
B. He was unknown to us. Meanwhile the captain steers the ship, shattered as it was, and leaking at every seam, and evidently ready to fall to pieces, had it not been bound with cables.
A. A sad condition of affairs.
B. We came so far in shore that the inhabitants of the place saw our danger; and running in crowds to the beach, they held up their coats and put their hats upon lances, to attract our attention; and threw their arms upward toward the skies, to signify that they were sorry for us.
A. I am anxious to know what happened.
B. The sea had already invaded the whole ship, so that we were likely to be no safer in the ship than in the sea.
A. Then you were obliged to flee to the holy anchor?
B. Nay, to the miserable one. The sailors bail out the boat and lower it into the sea. All attempt to crowd into it, and the sailors remonstrate vigorously, crying that the boat is not able to hold such a crowd; that each one should lay hold of whatever he could find and take to swimming. There was no opportunity for deliberation. One took an oar, another a boat-hook, another a sink, another a plank; and all took to the waves, each one resting upon his means of salvation.
A. In the meantime what became of that poor woman, who alone did not cry out.
B. She came first of all to land.
A. How was that possible?
B. We placed her upon a wide board, and lashed her on so that she could not very well fall off. We gave her a paddle in her hand 54 which she might use instead of an oar, and, wishing her well, we set her adrift, pushing her forward with a pole, so that she might float wide of the ship, from which there was danger. She held her baby with her left hand and paddled with her right.
A. What a courageous woman!
B. When nothing was left, some one pulled down a wooden image of the Virgin Mother, now rotten and hollowed out by the rats, and embracing it, began to swim.
A. Did the boat arrive safe?
B. They were the first ones to be lost.
A. How did that happen?
B. Before it could get clear of the ship it tipped and was overturned.
A. How badly managed! What then?
B. While watching the others I nearly perished myself.
A. How so?
B. Because nothing remained for me to swim upon.
A. Corks would have been of use there.
B. Just at this time I would rather have had some cheap cork than a golden candlestick. Finally, as I was looking about, it occurred to me that the stump of the mast would be of use to me; but as I could not get it out alone, I got a companion to help me. We both threw ourselves upon it and so committed ourselves to the sea, I upon the right end, he upon the left. While we were thus tossing about, that priest, the sea chaplain, threw himself upon the middle, between our shoulders. He was a stout man. We cried out: “Who is this third man? He will cause us all to perish!” He, on the other hand, mildly replied: “Be of good cheer; there is room enough. God will be with us.”
A. Why did he take to swimming so late?
B. He was to have been with the Dominican in the boat, for all deferred to him in this; but although they had confessed to one another on the ship, yet they had forgotten something, I know not what, and began confessing again at the ship’s rail, and one laid his hand upon the other. Meanwhile the boat was lost; for Adam himself told me this.
A. What became of the Dominican?
B. He, the same one told me, implored all the saints’ help, put off his clothes and took to swimming all naked.
A. What saints did he invoke?55
B. Dominic, Thomas, Vincent; but he relied most upon Catharine of Sens.
A. Did not Christ come into his mind?
B. This is what the priest told me.
A. He would have swum better had he not put off his holy cowl; with that off, how could Catharine of Sens recognize him? But go on about yourself.
B. While we were tossing about near the ship, which rolled hither and thither at the mercy of the waves, the helm broke the thigh of him who held the left end of our float, and he was knocked off. The priest prayed for his eternal rest, and succeeded to his place, urging me to hold courageously to my end and move my feet actively. In the meanwhile we swallowed a great deal of salt water. Neptune had mixed for us not only a salt bath, but a salt drink; but the priest soon had a remedy for that.
A. What, I pray?
B. As often as a wave came toward us, he turned the back of his head to it with his mouth firmly closed.
A. You say he was a stout old man?
B. Swimming thus for some time we had made considerable progress when the priest, who was a man of unusual height, said: “Be of good cheer; I feel bottom.” Not having dared to hope for such happiness, I replied: “We are yet too far from shore to hope to find bottom.” “No,” he said, “I feel the ground with my feet.” “It is,” I rejoined, “some of the boxes, perhaps, which the sea has tumbled thither.” “No,” said he, “I plainly feel the earth by scratching with my toes.” We swam on for some time longer, and he felt bottom again. “You do,” he said, “what seems to you best. I will give you the whole mast and trust myself to the bottom;” and at the same time waiting for the waves to flow outward, he went forward as rapidly as he could. When the waves came again upon him, holding firmly to his knees with both hands he met he wave, sinking beneath it as sea-gulls and ducks are accustomed to do; and when the wave again receded he sprang up and ran Seeing that this succeeded in his case, I did the same. Then some of the strongest of those who stood upon the beach, and those most used to the waves, fortified themselves against the force of the waves with long poles stretched between them, so that the outermost 56 held out a pole to the swimmer; and when he had grasped it, the whole line moved shorewards and so he was drawn safely on dry land. Some were saved in this manner.
A. How many?
B. Seven; but of these two fainted with the heat, when set before the fire.
A. How many were you in the ship?
A. O, cruel sea! At least it might have been content with the tithes, which suffice for the priests. Did it return so few out of so great a number?
B. We were surprisingly well treated by the people, who furnished us with all things with wonderful cheerfulness, lodging, fire, food, clothes, and provisions for our homeward journey.
A. What people were they?
A. No people are more civil, although they are surrounded with savage nations. You will not go to sea again, I take it?
B. No, not unless God sees fit to take away my senses.
A. And as for me, I would rather hears such tales than know them by experience.
A. Why do so many people stop over for two or three days at Lyon? As for me, when I start upon a journey I do not rest until I come to my destination.
B. Indeed, I wonder that any one can be got away from that place.
A. Why, I pray?
B. Because that is the place the companions of Ulysses could not have been drawn away from. The Sirens are there. No one is treated better in his own home than there at an inn.
A. What do they do?
B. Some woman was always standing near the table to divert the guests with wit and fun. First the woman of the house came to us, greeted us, and bade us be of good cheer and make the best of what was set before us. Then came the daughter, a fine woman, merry in manner and tongue, so that she might have amused Cato himself. Nor do they talk to their guests as if they were strangers, but as if they were old acquaintances.
A. Yes, I admit that the French people are very civil.57
B. But since they could not be present all the time, and the business of the house had to be attended to and the other guests greeted, a girl well supplied with jokes attended us during the whole meal. She was well able to repay all jesters in their own coin. She kept the stories going until the daughter returned, for the mother was somewhat elderly.
A. But what sort of fare had you with all this? For the stomach is not filled with stories.
B. Fine! Indeed, I wonder that they can entertain guests so cheaply. Then too, after dinner they divert you with pleasant conversation, lest you should grow weary. It seemed to me I was at home, not travelling.
A. How about the sleeping accommodations?
B. Even there we were attended by girls, laughing, romping and playing; they asked us if we had any soiled clothes, washed them for us and brought them back. What more can I say? We saw nothing but women and girls, except in the stables; and even here they burst in occasionally. They embrace departing guests and send them away with as much affection as if they were all brothers or near relations.
A. Very likely such manners suit the French; as for me, the customs of Germany please me more. They are more manly.
B. I never happened to visit Germany; so tell me, I beg of you, in what manner the Germans entertain a guest?
A. I am not certain that the process is everywhere the same. I will relate what I have seen. Upon your arrival nobody greets you, lest they should seem to court a guest; for they consider that mean and unworthy of the German gravity. When you have shouted yourself hoarse, finally some one puts his head from the window of the stove-room (for they live there up to the middle of summer), just as a snail pokes its head out of its shell. You have to ask him if you may be entertained there. If he does not tell you no, you understand that place will be made for you. To your inquiries, with a wave of his hand, he indicates where the stables are. There you are permitted to take care of your horse as you choose; for no servant lifts a finger. If the tavern is a large one, a servant will show you the stables and a rather inconvenient place for your horse. They keep the better places for those who are to come, especially for the nobility. If you find fault with anything, you are told at once that if it 58 does not please you, you are at liberty to hunt another tavern. In the cities it is with difficulty that you can get any hay, even a little, and then they sell it almost as dear as oats. When your horse is provided for, you go just as you are to the stove-room, boots, baggage and mud. There is one room for all comers.
B. Among the French they show the guests to the sleeping-rooms, where they may change their clothes, bathe and warm themselves, or even take a nap, if they please.
A. Well, there is no such thing here. In the stove-room you take off your boots and put on slippers. If you like, you change your shirt; you hang your clothes, wet with rain, against the stove; and you sit by it yourself, in order to get dry. There is water at hand if you care to wash your hands, but it is generally so clean that you have to seek more water to wash of that ablution.
B. I cannot refrain from praising men who are so little softened with the elegancies of living.
A. Even if you arrive the fourth our after noon, you cannot get your supper before the ninth, and sometimes the tenth.
B. Why is that?
A. They serve nothing until they see all the guests assembled, in order that the same effort may serve for all.
B. They have an eye to labor-saving.
A. You are right. And thus very often eighty or ninety persons are assembled in the same stove-room, footmen, horsemen, tradesmen, sailors, coachmen, farmers, boys, women, healthy people and sick people.
B. That is in truth a community of living.
A. One is combing his head, another wiping the perspiration from his face, another cleaning his winter shoes or boots, another reeks of garlic. What more could you desire? Here is no less confusion of tongue and of persons than there was once in the tower of Babel. But if they see a foreigner, who shows some evidence of distinction in his dress, they are all interested in him, and stare at him as if he were some animal from Africa. Even after they are at table they turn their heads to get a look, and neglect their meals rather than lose sight of him.
B. At Rome, Paris and Venice no one wonders at anything.
A. Meanwhile you may not call for anything. When the evening is far advanced and no more guests are expected, an old 59 servant appears, with gray beard, cropped head, a savage look and shabby clothes.
B. It was necessary that such should be cup-bearers to the Roman Cardinals.
A. He casts his eye about and silently reckons how many there are in the stove-room. The more there are present the more violently the stove is heated, although the weather may be uncomfortably warm outside. This is the certain indication of hospitality, that everybody should be dripping with sweat. If anyone who is not used to this steaming, should open a chink of a window, lest he be stifled, immediately he hears: “Shut it!” If you reply: “I cannot bear it!” you hear, “Then look out for another tavern!”
B. It seems to me there is nothing more dangerous than for so many persons to breathe the same air, especially when the pores are open, and then dine and stay there several hours. Not to speak of the odor of garlic and bad breaths. There are many, too, who are affected with secret diseases, and every distemper is to a certain degree infectious. Certainly many have the Spanish, or as some call it, the French evil, although it is common enough to all nations. I think there is not much less danger from these than from lepers. Just thinh, too, how great danger there is from the plague!
A. Oh, they are sturdy fellows. They laugh at these things.
B. But at the same time they are brave at the expense of many.
A. Well, what can you do about it? They are accustomed to it, and it is a sign of a constant mind not to depart from established customs.
B. Twenty-five years ago nothing was more common among the people of Brabant than public baths; now there is hardly one to be found, for the new ailment has taught us to avoid them.
A. But listen to the rest. The bearded Ganymede returns and spreads with linen cloths as many tables as he considers necessary for the number of guests. But heavens and earth! how far from fine are the cloths. You would say they were sail-cloths taken down from the yard-arms of a ship. He has reckoned on eight guests to each table. Those who know the custom of the country now sit down, each one where he pleases; for no distinction is made between a poor man and a rich man, between a master and a servant.60
B. That is the old equality which tyranny has driven out of existence. Thus, I believe, Christ lived with his disciples.
A. Well, after all are seated, the grim Ganymede comes out and counts over his company once more. By and by he returns and sets before each guest a wooden dish and a spoon of the same kind of silver; then a glass and a little piece of bread. Each one polishes up his utensils in a leisurely way, while the porridge is cooking. And thus they sit not uncommonly for upwards of an hour.
B. Does no guest call for food in the meantime?
A. No one who is acquainted with the temper of the country. At length wine is served — good Lord, how far from being tasteless! Those who water their wine ought to drink no other kind, it is so thin and sharp. But if any guest seeks to obtain some other kind of wine, offering to pay extra for it, at first they dissemble, but with an expression as if they wished to murder you. If you insist upon it they answer that a great many counts and margraves have lodged there and none of them has complained of the quality of the wine; if it does not suit you, why then, look our for another tavern for they look upon their noblemen as the only men of importance, and exhibit their coats of arms everywhere. Already, then, the guests have a crust to throw to their barking stomachs. By and by the dishes come on in great array. The first usually consists of pieces of bread soaked in meat-broth, or, if it be fish-day, in a broth of herbs. After this comes another kind of broth, then some kind of warmed-up meat or salt fish. Again the porridge is brought on, then some more substantial food, until, when the stomach is well tamed, they serve up roast meat or boiled fish, which is not to be despised. But here they are sparing, and take the dishes away quickly. In this way they diversify the entertainment, like play-actors who mix choruses with their scenes, taking care that the last act shall be the best.
B. This is indeed the mark of a good poet.
A. Moreover, it would be an unpardonable offense if anybody in the meantime should say: “Take away this dish; nobody cares for it.” You must sit there through the prescribed time, which they measure, I suppose, with an hour-glass. At last, the bearded fellow, or the inn-keeper himself, who differs very little from the servants in his dress, comes in and asks if there is anything wanted. By and by some better wine is brought on. 61 They admire most him who drinks most; but although he is the greater consumer he pays no more than he who drinks least.
B. A curious people, indeed!
A. The result is that sometimes there are those who consume twice the value in wine of what they pay for the whole meal. But before I end my account of this entertainment, it is wonderful what a noise and confusion of voices arise, when all have begun to grow warm with drink. It is unnecessary to say that the riot is universal. So-called jesters thrust themselves in everywhere, and although there is no kind of human beings more despicable, yet you would scarcely believe how the Germans are pleased with them. They sing and prate, shout, dance and thump, so that the stove seems ready to fall. No one can hear another speak. But it seems to please them, and you are obliged to sit there, whether you will or not, until late into the night.
B. Now do finally finish the entertainment: for I too am worn out with the length of it.
A. Very well. When at last the cheese, which hardly pleases them unless rotten and full of worms, has been taken away, the bearded fellow comes forth, bearing a trencher in which are drawn with chalk some circles and semi-circles, and lays it upon the table, so silent, meanwhile, and sad, that you would say he was some Charon. Then they who comprehend the design lay down their money, then another and still another, until the trencher is filled. Then having observed who has contributed, he reckons it up silently; and if nothing is wanting he nods with his head.
B. What if there should be something over?
A. Perhaps he would return it As a matter of fact, this sometimes happens.
B. Does nobody every cry out against the reckoning as unjust?
A. Nobobdy who is prudent. For he would hear at once: “What srt of fellow are you? You are paying no more than the others!”
B. This is certainly a frank kind of people you are telling about.
A. And if anybody, weary with his journey, asks to go to bed soon after supper, he is ordered to wait until the rest also go to bed.
B. I seem to see a Platonic city.
A. Then each is shown to his rest, and it is truly nothing more than a bed-chamber; for there is nothing there but a bed, and nothing else that you can use or steal.62
B. Is there cleanliness?
A. Just as at dinner; linen washed six months ago, perhaps.
B. In the meantime what had become of the horses?
A. They were treated according to the same method as the men.
B. But do you get the same accommodations everywhere?
A. Sometimes more courteous, sometimes harsher than I have told you; but on the whole it is as I have said.
B. How would you like me to tell you how guests are treated in that part of Italy which is called Lombardy, or in Spain, or in England and in Wales? For the English have assimilated in part the French and in part the German customs, being a mixture of these two nations. The Welsh boast that they are the original English.
A. I should like you to tell me, for I never had occasion to see them.
B. At present I have not time, for the sailor told me to meet him at the third hour, or I should be left behind; and he has my baggage. Some other time we shall have an opportunity of chatting to our heart’s content.
* Opera omnia (edidit J. Clericus) Lvgd. Bat.,P. van der Aa. 1703-1706.
[You may see, on this site, that the account of the merchant who vowed a wax candle, insincerely, had been recounted a generation earlier by Poggio Bracciolini in his Facetiæ, LXXXV, translated by Edward Storer. — Elf.Ed.]