[Back] [Blueprint] [Next]

Click on the footnote number and you will jump to it, then click that footnote number and you will jump back to where you were in the text [That line will be at the top of the screen].

From A Literary Source-book of the German Renaissance, by Merrick Whitcomb, PH. D., University of Pennsylvania; 1900; pp. 23-34.



Jacob Wimpheling (1450-1528) was born at Schlettstadt, in the Upper Rhine country. His education was acquired in the schools of his native town and at the universities of Freiburg, Erfurt and Heidelberg. Although for a considerable time connected with the university of Heidelberg in the capacity of teacher, the most productive period of Wimpheling’s life was spent at Strasburg, where his more important works were written. These works were mostly pædagogical. The Isidoneus, a guide for the German youth; the Adolescentia, of a similar character, and the Agatharchia, or book for the direction of princes, were all of them attempts to raise the standard of education in Germany. The Germania, written in 1501, during Wimpheling’s residence at Strasburg, was an appeal to the municipality to establish an advanced system of public schools. Incidentally, however, he appealed to the sentiment of German patriotism, defending the thesis that Alsace had ever been a German land; a contention which was opposed by another famous German humanist, Thomas Murner (1475-1537). Out of this difference of opinion arose one of the most celebrated literary controversies of the time.

Wimpheling’s interest in educational matters won for him the distinguished title of the “Schoolmaster of Germany.” His writings obtained a wide circulation and did much to determine the character of German education for two centuries. Apart from this special work, Wimpheling was a typical humanist of the earlier type, selecting his material with reference to its value for purposes of Christian culture, and possessing all the homely and substantial virtues of his race. He valued the new learning chiefly for its adaptability to the purposes of practical life, and the methods he advocated looked to the production of able and conscientious men rather than accomplished scholars.


Chapter 25: The Study of Greek.

In the matter of Greek I am not competent to render judgment or give an estimate, since in the best years of my youth I had no teacher in this branch. If I wished to follow the example of Marcus Cato, and learn it in my mature years, there would be no lack of excellent teachers in Germany. Thus Rudolph Agricola has learned and taught Greek. Johannes Camerarius Dalberg, Bishop of Worms, devotes himself with ardor to the study of Greek — he who is the ornament of Germany, the glory of his generation, 24 the especial pride of Duke Philip of Bavaria, the crown of bishops — he whom, on account of his astonishing erudition, I regard as born for something even more distinguished. With no slight ardor does Johannes Trithemius, Sponheim’s pious abbot, devote himself to the study of Greek. Among those who at the present time are competent to teach Greek is also Johannes Capnion, or as he is commonly called, Reuchlin of Pforzheim, and the poet laureate, Conrad Celtes. It is, moreover, well known that Augustine in his second book of Christian Doctrine advances the opinion that for those who speak Latin a knowledge of Greek is necessary for the understanding of Holy Writ. It is also known that teachers out of their ignorance of this tongue have communicated much of error to their pupils. For example, they were of the belief that the name of Christ, which was written by our ancestors, who for the most part knew Greek, with three Greek letters, XPC, had been incorrectly indicated with three Latin letters, although it is beyond doubt that the first of these three letters indicated to the Greeks not “x,” but “ch;” that the second stood not for “p” but for “r,” while by the third not “c,” but “s” was meant.

Chapter 26: The Aim of Grammatical Instruction.

Contemplate, O teachers, the aim of grammatical instruction! Bear in mind that this instruction is to enable the pupil to speak Latin correctly and agreeably on all occasions, to understand it perfectly and to be able to apply it to branches of knowledge that promise the greater rewards. This is the object, this the aim, this the sum and substance of your instruction. But when it is possible for any one to reach this goal with small pains and slight exertion, is he not foolish to wander here and there through by-ways and all sorts of turns and twistings at the expense of greater effort? But many remain obstinate in their errors and close their ears to the plain truth. Although a straight path is offered to them for the study of grammar, yet they pursue a crooked way, which brings them from the direct route; they abandon the level road, in order to forge ahead over a way full of inequalities; they give up the short road, in order to deceive their uninstructed youth with meaningless and windy discourses, together with great loss of time and interruption of mental development; to weaken and unnerve them. They remain themselves, together with their 25 pupils, blind and lame, for their ignorance in respect to the elements of grammatical instruction permits them to grope about in darkness. He will never attain to the object of grammar, who during his entire youth has busied himself with Alexander, with the meaning of words, with figures and examples, all of which is superfluous, and at the end can neither thoroughly grasp nor understand the smallest preface of Jerome, nor any homily of the fathers, nor anything whatsoever hat is agreeably written with all the grammar which he is supposed to have learned.

Therefore it is for you, who are placed at the head of the public schools, to conduct your pupils by the nearest possible way to an understanding and knowledge of the Latin tongue. Leave untouched the old established explanations, which are full of absurdities, and above all such as are calculated to cause one to forget rather than to learn, in which there is nothing either graceful or dignified, and which, moreover, are useless either for the acquisition or the comprehension of Latin.

The Latin language I regard as the noblest of tongues; it can be learned and understood by the people of every nation; it makes the noble born still nobler; one who knows it not is thereby rendered unworthy of the Roman imperial crown; in it have countless things been written, which can scarcely be translated into the German or any popular speech; he who despises it shows himself unworthy of it; he who refuses to become a Latinist, remains forever a wild beast and a two-legged donkey. Our princes and their trusted courtiers and flatterers — not to call them “worshippers,” with Augustine — as despisers of the Latin language and literature, might be called barbarians by foreigners; and such in truth they are. But you, admirable youths, love this tongue; no other language is nobler, more graceful and more expressive; no other language surpasses it in abundance and splendor of high and enlightened thought.


Chapter I. The Choice of Books.

If I did not fear to be accused by others of presumption, I should advise teachers to observe, in the introduction of the 26 grammar, the orderly succession and the principles which I have presented in my “Isodoneus.” I permit myself to hope that immediately after the instruction in the alphabet, they will put into your hands the Donat, to which I have nothing to add, and from which I have little to take away. Then will they make you acquainted with the varieties and declensions of nouns and verbs, with the easier forms of sentences and terminations according to Sulpicius,§ or some other good exercise book for boys. Then they will place before you Basil the Great and the letter of Æneas Silvius to King Ladislaus.¥ After these have been completed, this book of mine may, I think, without detriment, be placed in your hands, by means of which you may become acquainted with Cicero, Sallust, Seneca, Tranquillus and Valerius Maximus. In this manner you will be more easily to attain to an understanding of Christian history, of the noble deeds of the Germans, especially in the account of Otto of Freisingen, in whom your noble father, who possesses a carefully revised and perfect edition of this work, take great delight.

When you will read something of a more sprightly character, to cheer you up or for amusement, turn to Lucian. Whenever any sad mischance has shaken you, take your flight to Francesco Petrarca, who for all the turns of fortune, be they good or ill, has ever a perfect remedy and in a tasteful form, as well against arrogance and presumption as against discouragement and sadness. If, however, you love brevity, take up the equally interesting and instructive book of Baptista Mantuanus, De patientia. If you take pleasure in learning of the tasks and duties of an upright prince or count, or if for the relief and unburdening of your conscience you give to God an account of the days of your life, then you may peruse my Agatharchia.


Chapter III. Boys of noble birth more than others should be instructed in the humanities.

If it is the duty of all parents to afford a good education to their children, it is of especial importance that those boys who later in life are to occupy prominent positions, and whose words and deeds may not lie in obscurity, should be instructed in the higher branches of learning, so that they may be worthy of their fortune, their dignity and their prominence. It is a reasonable condition, that those who demand for themselves the highest should also produce the highest. There is no safer nor more enduring basis for dominion than that those who rule should be considered most worthy of their lordship.

Chapter IV. Learning and virtue are more to be esteemed than all else.

Every one should strive for learning and virtue, which alone confer nobility. These are to be striven for above all other things to which the human mind directs itself. For money, honor and pleasure are changing and transitory. The possession and fruits of virtue on the contrary are unassailable and permanent, and make their possessor immortal and happy. The youth, therefore, especially when he comes of distinguished parents, should be reminded with especial emphasis, that he may value the soul’s advantage and not the gifts of fortune and physical accomplishments. Each day he should exert himself, in order that he may not become an awkward, lazy, stupid, foppish, wanton fellow, as in our day most of the noble-born are, but that he shall be intelligent and educated; that he may be well instructed from his youth and not ignorant of the humanities; that he shall apply himself to the reading of the Holy Writ; that he may be well-bred, just, gentle and pious; that he may be no friend of wastlings and buffoons, or of such as find their joy in biting calumny, or of such as in any way outrage good breeding; in order that he may be rather a friend of clever and cultured men.

Chapter V. A boy’s disposition has to be determined at the start.

In the first place, each one has to give proof of his talents and capacity. Since on account of their age this cannot be adequately determined in the case of boys, it will be necessary for their parents or the teachers to whom the youths have been entrusted, to observe carefully the general direction of their mind, and talents, according to their natural dispositions. Their studies should then 28 be directed into this same direction, and with these studies they should occupy themselves exclusively.

Chapter VII. The sons of the great shall not apply themselves exclusively to the chase.

What special signification has the art of the chase — if indeed this employment deserves to be called an art — for a king or for a noble prince, that for it he despises and neglects all other skilled labors and exercises of the body? Is it not true that an ordinary man of base extraction, devoid of all distinctions, of all cleverness and aptitude, may be quite the equal of a prince in the exercise of the chase? The worst gallows-bird, empty of all ability, of all cleverness, of all fear of the Lord, is qualified to apply himself to this “delight.” He too may carry the horn which hangs about his neck; he too may jump about like mad, and race his horse here and there through field and forest, and fill the air with cries; he too in peril of life and health may follow the game and shoot it with bow or gun or run it down with hunting-spear.

For a prince, however, that would be a more laudable art, in which a man of common birth and low intelligence could not equal him. Therefore he shall apply himself to use with ease the noblest of tongues in reading and in speaking and particularly with foreigners; he shall consider it furthermore his duty to learn the customs of the ancients and the manners of foreign lands; he shall make himself acquainted with historical statements and relations, such as serve for agreeable and witty entertainment or for elevating instruction; then too, the holy councils, which attend to the interests of the individual and of the state, as well as to the public and civic welfare, should not be unfamiliar to him; in the range of his knowledge he should include the arts of peace and war, as well as the proper training of children, and law and equity, which may serve for the defence of justice and the maintenance of right. Then will he rise above his subjects; then will he be distinguished from them in his actions; then will he draw upon himself beyond a doubt the love and veneration of his people.

Chapter VIII. The indications of good natural gifts.

One indication of ability and of a spirit worthy of a free man is shown in the striving after praise and the desire for honor. 29 Hence arises the contest for honor and distinction. It is another token, when great things are dared for praise and honor. A third token betrays itself in the readiness for good deeds, in the disinclination for idleness and in the desire always to accomplish something of importance. A fourth is shown in a dread of threats and blows, and a still greater dread of dishonor and shame. Hence arises that feeling of modesty and awe, which is of the highest value at his time of life. It is also a good indication when boys blush on being reproved, and when they mend their ways after having been chastised. A fifth sign is when they love their teachers and bear neither dislike nor hatred against them or their discipline. A sixth sign is this: that children listen willingly to their parents and are not deaf to their well-meant admonitions; for youth is inclined to sin, and when it is not held in bounds by the example and counsel of older people, it often seeks in haste the road to destruction.

Chapter XLVI. The fifteenth rule forbids carousing.

The youth shall avoid most carefully immoderate use of wine and intoxication. Immoderate use of wine injures the health, and seriously limits the use of reason; it arouses strife and war and excites evil desires. For this reason the Lacedæmonians permitted drunken slaves to come before them at their meals, not that they might enjoy their disgusting conversation or their filthy actions — for it is only a worthless man who takes pleasure in the faults or in the vices of others — but that they might place before their young sons a living example of the shamefulness of intoxication. Was there ever an evil greater than this infamy? If then the disfigurement of the body is so disgusting, how great is to be regarded the deformity and repulsiveness of the soul disfigured with this vice? Whoever possesses the sense of shame that deters him from that so-called pleasure of eating and drinking, which man has in common with swine and donkeys, he may consider himself fortunate. Socrates indeed said that many men lived in order to eat and drink; he, however, ate and drank in order to live.

A youth, therefore, who desires to be accounted wise, must never smell of wine, he flees drunkenness as he would poison; he follows not the seductions of the palate, for a full stomach does not sharpen the senses. A pleasure-seeking and immoderate 30 youth bequeaths to age an exhausted body. The youth must know that human nature is content with little, as far as needs are concerned; in respect to pleasure, however, nothing is able to satisfy it. He should know, finally, that food, taken in moderation, is conducive to health; but that the contrary is the case when taken in excess. Thus saith John Chrysostom: “Nothing is so pleasing as well-prepared and well-cooked food; nothing more conducive to health; nothing so effectually sharpens the wits; nothing drives away an indisposition so quickly as moderate refreshment. An excess, however, produces sickness and disorders, and calls forth discord. The effects of hunger are equally produced, and even to a greater degree and with more disastrous consequences by immoderate indulgence; for hunger carries a man off in a few days, and delivers him from the pains of this life. Immoderation in food and drink destroys the human body and causes it to wither and saps its strength through illness, and then finally takes it hence in painful death.” Jerome held this view, and appealed to the physician Hippocrates and his expositor Galen.

Let the German youth accustom himself, therefore, to be moderate and careful with his food and drink, so that the opinion of foreigners may not be justly applied to him, when they say, with injustice, and without ever giving thought to their own shortcomings, that all Germans are given to intoxication and drunkenness. Young men may believe me when I say that I have known many a young man who has wasted his patrimony in debauchery and riotous living, and finally has seen himself compelled in misery either to beg his bread in shame and degradation or to end his life in the poorhouse.

Chapter XLVII: The sixteenth rule forbids curling the hair.

The young man shall turn his thoughts to neatness, but not to such a degree that it may be too evident or seem labored; he shall avoid negligence, which betrays a rustic mind and lack of culture. In the same way he shall look to his attire, and in this matter, as in most others, the golden mean is to be preferred. If in Holy Writ long hair is forbidden to man and youth, as being conducive to dishonor, how much heavier an offence is it then, not only to roll up and curl the hair, which naturally grows smooth and straight and is adorned with pleasing colors, but also to moisten 31 and dye it with artificial color. A well-mannered and modest youth will hold himself aloof from such deceit and feminine practices; for nothing was so certain a sign of the worst of all vices to the ancients as this wicked and shameful custom of curling the hair. Thus Plautus says of a certain one: “Thou voluptuary with the curly hair!” Curling the hair makes a woman of a man; it softens the youth; it produces an abundance of vermin; it strives in vain for that which nature has forbidden; it is a sign of arrogance and bluster; it betrays epicureanism and sensuality; it offends God the Lord and frightens away the guardian angel; it makes the head heavy and affects the brain; it weakens the memory and deforms the countenance; it gives old age a horrid, mangy look; it is evidence of great simpleness. Is there anything more absurd than to hold the hair in estimation above the head; than to care more for the color of the hair than for sprightliness of mind, as the brave and honest poet Diether has said with playful grace to your distinguished father. Finally, crimping the hair shuts one out from the kingdom of Heaven; for how will God, the best and highest One of all, deem those worthy of the kingdom of the blest who, dissatisfied with the form, with the countenance, with the hair which he has given them, are not ashamed to wear false hair, to slight and despise that divine gift, and to seek strange gifts. On the last day the Judge will be able to confront those who crimp and curl their hair with these words: “I have not created this man; I have not given him this countenance; this is not the hair which I gave him at birth.” Augustine bears us witness with these words: “God is against the arrogant and those that curl their hair.”


Chapter XIV. The Support and Direction of High Schools.

It should be the care and effort of a prince, that scientific studies should flourish in his principality and that many wise and energetic men should distinguish themselves therein. In this matter you will do well to imitate your father. It was his earnest desire, that the high school at Heidelberg should advance in all excellent sciences, and particularly in the humanistic studies, which before all are indispensable to young men, and of value in the still more important exercise of the sacred law; for it is not sufficient that this or the other branch of learning 32 should enjoy especial prosperity and consideration at the high school. It is necessary that suitable arrangements should be made for each branch of learning, through the whole range of the higher arts and sciences. For in this wise such institutions of learning show themselves worthy of the name of “University.”** Thus your father acted well and advisedly, when he founded a college for jurisprudence. For it is better that teachers and pupils should dwell together, than that the latter should be separated and scattered hither and thither in nooks and corners without supervision.

Chapter 15: The Desirability of having suitable Pastors and Teachers.

A prince shall nominate or appoint for his pastors and for the direction of his scholars, able learned and cultured men, who are qualified to give instruction. And although in other cases princes are accustomed to state their desires rather violently — as some one has said: “When princes ask, it is a specially emphatic form of command,” or “The mighty put their requests with a drawn sword” — yet in these two instances, that is to say, in the matter of the cure of souls and the education of children, the prince shall not advance any one he chooses to an academic standard; he shall not personally advance the claims of his favorite without due consideration; he shall not confide to an inexperienced man a responsible position as pastor, simply because his father understood his business or his service as cook, huntsman, fowler or zither-player, to the injury of the man’s own soul and to the detriment of the prince himself. A prince will have to give an account of all these things. It would be more to the purpose to bestow offices of this sort upon men of distinction, mature and blameless men, who have acquired a fund of human experience, who are able to awaken confidence, who are thoughtful of the welfare of their native land, who love God and the salvation of souls more than all other things, who allow themselves to be directed by nothing, neither by the arrangements of this or that one, nor by the demands of the faculty or the bursary, but simply and exclusively look to the morality, the intellectual advancement, the eloquence and the progress of those who are entrusted to their care. It is also not to be permitted that at a high school 33 one faculty should subordinate, encroach upon or oppress another. The prosperity of the high school and due respect for the founder demand rather, that the faculty which was first established should not give way; reason suggests that equilibrium should be preserved; equal labor and equal remuneration, and in a similar way, equal consideration on the part of those whose privilege it is to bestow rewards and favors. Especially are those self-seeking souls to be kept at a distance, who do not hesitate, for their own advantage and with unseemly pertinacity in their own behalf, to undermine the whole academic structure, to violate every approved regulation, to destroy the sacred harmony and break down a just distribution of stipends.

Chapter 17. The Training of Princely Children.

A prince should see to it, that his children are well educated and well trained, and that from their earliest years they are directed toward humanistic studies. They should be able also to use the Latin language in a satisfactory manner. This will redound to their honor in the assemblies of princes, in their intercourse with ecclesiastical dignitaries, in the reception of cardinals or in their intercourse with foreigners. Julius and Augustus, Marcus Cato, King Robert of Sicily, Constantine, Charles the Great and other princes and their sons have neither impaired the honor of their names in any way through such study, nor have they discovered therein any diminution of their martial glory. What the characteristics of a good teacher are, I have already indicated in my Isidoneus. As to how they should bring up boys, they may peruse the letter of Aeneas Silvius to Ladislas.†† In the training of older pupils they should govern themselves by Holy Writ and the writings of the heathen. They may find inspiration also in the treatise which John Gerson addressed to the confessor of Charles VII. King of France; above all they should not neglect the Summa of John Gallensis.‡‡

Chapter XXII. Precautions against the Artificial Raising of Prices.

A prince should take care that well-filled granaries are at hand for the benefit of his people, so that an occasional famine may be 34 mitigated by means of the surplus of foregoing years. He shall also take precautions, so that when, to punish us for our sins, God in his wisdom limits the increase of fruits or sends destructive storms upon us, prices shall not rise out of reach through the insatiable avarice of priests or citizens. He shall see that just prices are made, so that the scarcity may be more endurable for the poor; for there are such as collect and heap together the harvests of several years, and hold them back purposely, in order that they may sell those products at advanced prices. People of this kind sometimes bring about an advance in prices merely by their avarice. If your father Philip had not broken this up and forbidden, in years past, that the price of a bushel of wheat should exceed 16 solidi,§§ the price of the same would have risen to a pound denarii or nearly to two pounds and this merely through the wantonness of avaricious people, who cared not whether poor people suffered hunger or even died of hunger, if they themselves could get rich. I speak from experience.

Chapter XXIII. To Prevent the Exportation of Gold and Silver.

A prince shall take precautions, in so far as it is possible without offense toward God, that neither gold or silver shall be taken out of his territory into foreign lands, unless a complete equivalent therefor is returned. I do not know why it is that other people have contracted the habit of draining the German nation dry, while no gain comes to us from foreign lands. The Roman annates, the spices and fabrics of Venice, the Italian rectorates, the French jugglers and players, the regular orders, their hospitals and settlements carry enormous sums out of our lands. Our people, however, have only one order founded for the Germans, and this has obtained in all France not one cloister, nor single settlement, nor any kind of income whatsoever. The French, on the contrary, have in our midst the Antonines,¶¶ the Valentinians, the Benedictines and many others; not to speak of the Cistercians and Praemonstratensians. So great is either the simplicity or the generosity of the Germans.


*  Sammlung der bedeutendsten pädagogischen Schriften. Band 13. Paderborn, 1892.

  The Doctrinale puerorum of Alexander de Villa Dei, written 1209 (1199), a famous Latin grammar, which came into extensive use in the Middle Ages. With singular perversity the text was tortured into hexameter verse.

  Or Donatus; the ars grammatica of Aelius Donatus (IV Century A. D.). This book, in two forms, the ars minor and the ars major, came into general use as an elementary Latin grammar after the middle of the twelfth century.

§  Johannes Sulpicius Verulanus (Giovanni Sulpicio of Veroli), a humanist of the XV. century; taught at Rome, and composed works upon grammar.

  St. Basil (329-379), Archbishop of Cæsarea in Cappadocia.

¥  Vide Source-Book of the Italian Renaissance, pp. 55-63.

**  Academia Universitatum.

††  Cf. Source-Book of the Italian Renaissance, p. 55, et seq.

‡‡  English Franciscan monk. Taught at University of Paris in 1279. His Summa Collationum was a book of aphorisms.

§§  According to the Carolingian coinage regulations the pound silver was divided in 20 solidi or into 240 denarii.

¶¶  Established 1095. Under Boniface VIII. changed to a congregation of Augustinians; 1774 united with the order of Malta; dissolved in the revolutionary period.

[Back] [Blueprint] [Next]
Valid CSS!