From The Autobiography of Johannes Butzbach, A Wandering Scholar of the Fifteenth Century, [Hodoporicon] Translated from the German by Robert Francis Seybolt and Paul Monroe; Ann Arbor, Michigan: Edwards Brothers, Inc., 1933; pp. 151-158.




A wandering scholar of the fifteenth century*

Translation and notes
Robert Francis Seybolt

An interesting introduction to the autobiographical accounts of the life of the wandering scholar is to be found in the Chronik of Burkhard Zink.1 Zink’s wanderings, which took place between the years 1407 and 1415, antedate those of Johannes Butzbach by some seventy-five years, and those of Thomas Platter by a full century.2 As compared with the accounts of these later scholares vagantes, the significant portion of Burkhard Zink’s autobiography, that concerned with his school life, is somewhat brief. A translation follows:3

“In God’s name, I am going to write the following book, relating how I, Burkhard Zink, lived since childhood, and the adventures that befell me.

“My dear mother died in childbirth in the year of our Lord 1401; God have mercy on her, amen. I was then four years old, and had two brothers, John 152 and Conrad, and a sister, Margaret.4 It should be mentioned that our father was called Burkhard Zink. He was an industrious man who traded with Styria, and had property at Memingen near the grave of Mangold, next to Mrs. Beckin who was a widow, but who later took another husband named Kipfenberg. A blacksmith has since purchased our father’s house, ad to this day many smiths, who make scythes, live in that same street. I remember well that we lived there.

In 1404 my father married again, a woman whose father was called Hans Schmid of Krumbach, a smith and an upright man. She was a proud, young woman, who did not like us children, but resented us and treated us badly; but she was very dear to our father, and pleased him well, as young wives often do please fat, old men.

“In 1407, when I was a lad of eleven years, I left Memingen, my father and all my friends, and went away with a scholar. I was also a scholar, for I had gone to school four years.5 We went together in Krainland toward Wend, to a market-town called Reifnitz, which is a trading center in Krainland, about six miles from Laibach toward Croatia. I remained in that country seven years, and went to school there, for my father had a brother who was a pastor in a village called Rieg.6 Rieg is a large, 153 beautiful village, and five other villages belong to it, Göttenitz, Pausenbrunnen, etc. My master had been pastor of the same for thirty years, and had come there from Ortenburg with Count Friedrich’s wife. She had made him priest, for he had been her secretary. She was a von Teck. The Dukes of Mindelheim, Duke Ulrich, Duke Friedrich, and Duke Lutz, who was afterwards Patriarch of Friul for a number of years, were brothers of this same lady of Ortenburg. My master, my father’s brother, sent me to board with an honest fellow called Hans Schwab, who was Count Friedrich’s master-builder at Ortenburg, and who built at that time the lower house at Ortenburg, at the foot of the mountain.

“When I had been with my master at Reifnitz seven years, he would indeed have brought me to honor, and would have done handsomely by me. He wished to send me to the University of Vienna, but I did not want that, and left him against his wishes, and so he gave me nothing. I was then a scholar of eighteen years; and went to Memingen, and thought that I should remain with my father, and be a young gentleman. But things had changed almost entirely for my father and stepmother had separated, my brothers were dead, and my sister had married. And the inheritance which I should have had from my mother had been given, by my father and my other friends, to my sister, for we children had our own property, and had separated from our father, with our maternal inheritance, when he married again. When I was with my master in Wend, my friends thought that I would never leave him, and that he would look out for me; and in order that they might make a better settlement upon my sister, they gave her more. And now that I had arrived, I desired money like other young fellows, but there was nothing for me, and no one was glad to see me; indeed, I was very sorry that I had not remained with my master, and got ready and went back into the country on the instant. But when I arrived, I came like hail on a helmet.7 My master 154 was dead, and had given his property to his children and other people. He had four children. So I had returned in vain, and had wearied myself for nothing; there was not a heller’s worth of property for me. It served me right, for had I remained with him, it would all have been mine.

“As I had tired myself out uselessly, I got to my feet again, and returned to Memingen where the innkeeper lived. No one was pleased to see me; my friends paid no attention to me. Then I went to a kindly man who had moved to the city from a village. I conducted his two boys to school, remained with him a year and taught his boys. In truth I was in love with a little girl, and the longer I went to school the more unwillingly I did so, and finally I determined not to go to school at all, but wanted to learn a trade. My sister’s husband was a respected and prosperous weaver. Then I reflected upon the matter, and considered the very good living which his helper had, and that this trade would please me, and that I wanted to learn it. So I left school. My brother-in-law would gladly have taught me, but my other friends would not let me learn it, so I decided to learn another trade. Then, since I would not have anything else, my friends advised me to learn the furrier’s trade, which was a good, honest trade. So I let myself be persuaded, and bound myself out to a furrier at Memingen, called master Jos, who has since been a watchman at the Kempten gate. When I had been with that master fourteen days, I had enough of him. It made my back ache, and I could not satisfy him at all. Then I went to my sister, and told her that I did not want to remain any longer with the furrier, but would go back to school. This pleased my sister and her husband also, for he would have liked to make a preacher of me.

“Then I prepared to leave, and took my schoolbooks, and asked my sister and her husband for a little traveling money. They gave me six shillings 155 and no more. With that I set out the same day for Waldsee. I spent the night at the free lodging house, for I had but little money. It should be mentioned that when I left the furrier, my friends had to give him seven pounds, which they had promised him for teaching me. After spending the night in the lodging house at Waldsee, I arose early in the morning, and went across to Biberach. There I met an honest man (he was very rich, and had been a cobbler, but was not practicing his trade), who would, for God’s sake, take care of me for a year or more, and I was to go to school, but I had to get my food for myself. I went to school fourteen days, but was ashamed to beg; and when I left school, I bought a loaf of bread for one penny,8 and cut bits from it; and when I came home and my master asked me whether I had been in the town for bread, I answered “yes.” Then he said: “They give very willingly here to poor scholars.” This went on until I had not a penny left, but I would not beg. A scholar told me what a good school there was at Ehingen, and wanted me to go with him, so I did. I went with him to Ehingen, where there were many big bacchants running all over the city in search of bread.9 When I saw that the older, grown scholars went about and sang for bread, I went with them and succeeded; with four others I begged enough for my needs, and was no longer ashamed of it, and obtained enough so that I ate well.

“When I was at Ehingen, and had been in the school a half year, a big student came to me, and asked whether I would go with him to Ballingen where there was a very good school. He said he would help me to get a good position there, and would aid and advise me. He so carried me away with his pleasant speech, that I went with him to Ballingen which is 156 a little town a mile from Hohenzollern. When we reached Ballingen, we remained there a year; I went to school, but my comrade deserted me, and gave me neither help nor advice. So I went to a poor man, a smith, named Spilbentz. I was with him for a time, and escorted his son to school. After that I went to an innkeeper who gave me all of my board, so that I did not need to beg. Later, I left this place, and went to Ulm, where I remained for a whole year with the city piper, one Hans von Biberach, who treated me well. I took his son to school. He has since become a piper. I begged my bread.

“In 1415 I left Ulm, and returned to Memingen. My brother-in-law was delighted to see that I was somewhat chastened, and persuaded me to go to Augsberg. He wanted to have me consecrated an acolyte, but I remained in Memingen for a short time only. Later, I went to Augsberg in which city I entered the service of a rich, industrious shopkeeper, named Ulrich Schön, who, some years previously, had been ruined and reduced to poverty. I was with him a year, and left school for good. Once, at a carnival, I rode down a boy near St. George’s; and fearing the boy’s friends, I left there and went to Nürnberg. With the shopkeeper, I went to many fairs in Bavaria and elsewhere.”

Although it lacks the details supplied by Butzbach, and Platter, this brief account is worthy of a place in the literature of the wandering scholar. It is the first autobiography of its kind, of which the authorship is known. Furthermore, in its simple naïve fashion, it compresses within small compass the tale that is told by Butzbach, and Platter. It indicates the essential features of that life: the wanderings from school to school, the hardships endured by the scholars, and the small amount of learning actually acquired by these vagabonds.

There is nothing in the tales of Zink, Butzbach, and Platter that suggests the rollicking, carefree life of the goliardi of the twelfth and thirteenth 157 centuries. Although many of the same difficulties in obtaining food and shelter were experienced by the earlier wanderer — Exul ego clericus, ad laborem natus10 — he seems also to have enjoyed a large measure of wine, women, and song. But these later-day members of the familia Goliae do not mention such happy moments, and in that sense they do not appear as true “sons of Golias.” Indeed, it would be difficult to find a place for them among those earlier students who were classed with the joculatores, bufones, histriones and other ribaudi, by the Church Councils of the thirteenth century.11 The autobiographies mentioned indicate that in the bacchantes 158 of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries a new type of wandering scholar had appeared, to replace the vagabundi whose mode of life is so clearly reflected in the Carmina Burana, and in a certain number of the fabliaux.12


*  Reprinted, with permission, from The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, XIX, No. 4 (Oct., 1920), 520-28.

1  Chronik des Burkhard Zink, in Die Chroniken der deutschen Städte (Leipzig, 1866), V, 122-28; Oefelius, A. F. Rerum Boicarum Scriptores, etc. (2 vols. Augustae Vindelicorum, 1763), I, 247-49.

2  Heman, J. K. R. Thomas und Felix Platter, zwei Lebensbilder aus der Zeit der Reformation und Renaissance, von ihen selbst entworfen. Aus der Schweizerdeutschen. . . übertragen (Part II. Gütersloh, 1881); Monroe, Paul. Thomas Platter and the educational Renaissance of the sixteenth century (New York, 1904).

3   The original is in Middle High German.

4  Chronik, 313: “als ich gehort han von meinem vater, so bin ich geporen worden in dem jar, als man zalt von Christi underes lieben herrn gepurt 1396 jar, wie ich dann darvornen im buech nach lengs anzaight han.”

5  Zink was not a “scholar” at eleven years of age. Technically speaking, he was a “shooter”, i.e., a younger student who “fagged” for a scholar. Cf. Monroe, op. cit., 34-37; and Schmidt, K. Geschichte der Pädagogik (4 vols. in 3. Cöthen, 1873-78), II, 316.

6  In an earlier section (Chronik, 104) Zink mentions the places he visted during this period of his wanderings: “Am ersten als ich von Memingen ausschied . . . kam ich gen Mindelhaim, Landsperg, München, Wasserpurg . . . Reitwang . . . Wägingen, Saltzpurg, Gallein, Ratstat, über ein perg haist der Tauren Werffe, Mauterndorf, Gmünd, über den Kutzperg in das land ze Karnten, Friesack, Clagenfurt, sant Veit, Villach, da bin ich gewesen ain halb jar bei ainem burger, der hiess Truckenprot; Spitalin, Traburg, Lienz, ze Ortenpurg . . . über den Kranperg in Krainland, Radmasdorf, Krainpurg, Laibach.”

7  “da kam ich gleich als der schauer an die helm,” i.e., in vain.

8  “so kaufet ich ain laib prot umb 1 dn,” i.e., one denier.

9  Platter (Monroe, op. cit., 102): “Once there were in the city (Breslau), so it was said, several thousand bacchants and shooters, who supported themselves wholly by alms.”

10  Carmina Burana, in Bibliothek des literarischen Vereins in Stuttgart (Stuttgart, 1847), XVI, 50; see also Ibid., 8, 233, 235.

11  In the twelfth century, the wandering scholars enjoyed clerical privileges. Friedrich Barbarossa, in 1158, extended the Privilegium scholarium to those who journeyed from place to place in pursuit of learning. By the opening of the thirteenth century, however, they had fallen into disrepute, because of their riotous mode of living. Many Council decrees rescinded their “ancient” privileges, and assigned them to a place between the laity and the clergy. Furthermore, all classes were forbidden to receive and entertain members of the secta vagorum scholarium; and heavy fines were imposed upon those who violated this canon.

See the following Councils: Sens, 1223; Treves, 1227; Tours, and Chateau-Gonthier, 1231; Magdeburg, 1261; Mainz, 1261, 1310; Salzburg, 1274, 1292, 1310; St. Pölten, 1284; Wurzburg, 1287; Cahors, Rhodes, and Tulle, 1289; Bremem, 1292; Cologne, 1300. Bédier, J. Les Fabliaux, in Bibliothèque de l’École des Hautes Études (Paris, 1893), XCVIII, 351; Ducange, C. Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis, IV, 85 (Art: goliardus); Faral, E. Les Jongleurs en France au Moyen Age, in Bibliothèque de l’École des Hautes Études (Paris, 1910), CLXXXVII, 43; Hampe, T. Die fahrenden Leute in der deutschen Vergangenheit (Leipzig, 1902), 51; Hefele, K. J. Conciliengeschichte nach den Quellen, etc. (8 vols. Freiburg, 1873-90), v. 952, VI, 70-1, 79, 170, 230-1, 250, 264, 265; Hergenröther, J. A. C. Handbuch der allgemeinen Kirchengeschichte (2 vols. Freiburg im Breisgau, 1902-4), II, 709-10; Hubatsch, O. Die lateinische Vagantenlieder des Mittelalters (Görlitz, 1870), 14, 95.

12  Bédier, op. cit; Carmina Burana, op. cit; Edélstan du Méril. Poésies populaires latines du moyen age (Paris, 1847); Faral, op. cit., 32-43, 263-67; Gabrielli, A. Su la poesia dei goliardi (Cittá di Castello, Lapi, 1889); Hubatsch, op. cit; Langlois, C. V. La littérature goliardique, in Revue politique et litteraire (1892), II, 807-13; Pernwerth von Bärnstein, A. Ubi sunt, qui ante nos in mundi fuere? (Würzburg, 1881); Symonds, J. A. Wine, women, and song (London, 1899); Wright, T. Latin poems commonly attributed to Walter Mapes (London, 1841).

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