The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
by Elsa D'Esterre-Keeling.
The form of love-poetry, known under the name of "Minnegesang," in Germany may be said to have ceased with Ulrich von Liechtenstein, who died in 1276, having won imperishable fame, if fame of a doubtful character, as the author of "Frauendienst" ("Woman's Service"), in which work, quite unintentionally, he burlesqued the particular form of love to which was given the name of "Minne." It may be said that "Frauendienst" was the last rose of a very bright and rather sultry summer. Autumn's more sober hue is seen in the period which followed it, the period of "Meistergesang," which -- in this respect also autumnal -- bore fruit rather than flower. And German fruit -- grapes (German grapes), apples, pears, and plums, heaps of plums, but no citrons. Germany is not the land "wo die Citronen blühn." The link between Minnengesang and Meistergesang is very fitly formed by a poet to whom was given the tell-tale name of "Frauenlob" (Woman's Praise), and of whom we are told that he was borne to the grave by women. He, about the year 1300, founded the first Meistergesangesschule (Master Singers' School) at Mainz, or Mayence, since become so famous as the home of printing, a truly German town, on the confluence of two noble German rivers.
This name of "Meistersänger" was given to the poets of burgher-rank, who, from the year 1300 upwards, besides pursuing some handicraft, carried on the lyric poetry brought into favour by the "Minnesänger." Whereas the Minnesänger's theme was, however, always love, if love of three kinds in an ascending scale--love of woman, love of country, love of God--the theme of the Meistersänger was an ever-varying one, though one treated always in the same manner, that manner didactic. In the trade-guilds, formed by the Meistersänger, and which were most exclusive, the art of poetry was pursued as on an equal footing with the art of shoe-making; shoe-making being, indeed, an art in those days. Very strict were the rules laid down by the Meistersänger, who may be said to have been the schoolmen of poetry, and to these rules they gave the grandiloquent Latin name of Tabulatur. They were laughed at; but so long may folks laugh at a thing without laughing it down in good Germany, that there was a "Meistersingschule" existing in Ulm in the middle of the nineteenth century, contemporaneously with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Ulm, as everyone does not know, is the frontier town between Wirtemberg and Bavaria, has fine fortifications and the biggest church in Germany, after Cologne. They make wonderful pipes and wonderful cakes here, and they pride themselves on their asparagus. Ulm is, as will be seen from this, military and godly, fond of good things on its dinner-table (asparagus is an excellent thing on a dinner-table), fond of its pipe, and endowed with a sweet tooth. Argal, essentially German, and a very appropriate spot for Meistergesang to exist in contemporaneously with Johann Wolfgang won Goethe.
Few would welcome an account of even six of Germany's Meistersänger, the mere names of whom are unknown to the bulk of English folk. More's the pity, for the mere names of them have a German prettiness. Take only these:--Regenbogen, Rasenplüt, "Rainbow" and "Roseblossom." Here are names indeed for poets! "Rainbow should have written melting strains, and "Roseblossom" should have written flowery strains. Alas, both "Rainbow" and "Roseblossom" preferred to write didactic strains. They are terribly dull reading. They have always a sermon to preach, always a lesson to give, and the thing in that long run palls. Not that I wish it to be understood that "Rainbow" never lights up, or the "Roseblossom" is never what a roseblossom should be--sweet. Lowell calls Chaucer and his contemporaries "early risers of literature, who gather phrases with the dew still on them." Germany's young poet, "Roseblossom," has the dew still on him. The sweet child-language saves his didactic lays and plays; for, like all the Meistersänger, he was fond of writing plays.
It is pleasant to pass to the familiar figure of Hans Sachs, who may be said to have been in his prime in 1550, and in whom Meistergesang attained its height. The number of Hans Sachs' works is over six thousand. They embrace farces, comedies, tragedies, allegories, rimed narratives, and hymns. Perhaps the cobbler-poet will, however, live longest by his "Fastnachtsspiele." literally Shrove Tuesday plays, these being a species of German farce, which originated in the latter Middle Ages, and became very popular in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries centuries, "Fastnacht," Shrove Tuesday, also called "Fasching," and by the borrowed name of "Karneval," was a time of much merry-making in Germany.
Hans Sachs was what is called a "Nürnbergerkind" or Nürnberg child. To be able at all to conceive what a "Nürnbergerkind" is must first be conceived what Nürnberg is, I would say, think of a place in which children rule the day, in which the churches are built to look pretty, to please the children, and the houses are built to look funny, to pleas the children, and the streets are built to trip folks up, to please the children; for, of course, it is highly diverting to the children of Nürnberg to see folks tripped up in the streets. By "the children of Nürnberg" is meant by no means only young persons, but also middle-aged persons, and even octogenarians; for every native of Nürnberg, be his years few or many, is called a "Nürnbergerkind."
Not only must one think of children to form a conception of Nürnberg, but one must think of toys--more toys and more kinds of toys than one ever dreamt of before--wooden toys, and tin toys, and ivory toys, and silver and gold toys. The very churches of Nürnberg are overgrown toys--stone toys; and are full of toys inside--wooden toys--some of them carved and some of them painted.*
*Let me not be misunderstood. Anyone who has visited Nürnberg will remember the fantastic churches, the elaborate ornamentation of which without and within reminds one of those wondrous devices in confectionery which were called the Tudors "sotyltyes" (subtilties).
Having thought of children and thought of toys, he who would have a clear notion of Nürnberg must next think of beer--rivers, nay, oceans of beer; and of sausages--hills, nay, mountains of sausages; the have turned the house of Hans Sachs into a sausage shop! And then--alas! alas!--he must think of a horrible mal-odour, such as might be supposed to arise from a huge cauldron in which were boiled together beer and sausage and toy-paint, and which sent its steam all over Nürnberg, this making one gladly turn one's back on the town to stroll up to the castle which overlooks it, and the lovely land in which it lies. There is much to be seen within those old walls, and there is a thing to be seen outside them--
"In the courtyard of that castle, bound with many and iron band,
'Tis the pleasantest thing in the world to look down on Nürnberg from that height, and to tell oneself that this is the town in a little house of which Albrecht Dürer worked all the day-long hours making pictures, the fame of which has gone throughout the world, and that this is the town in which
"Hans Sachs war ein Schuh-Macher und Poet dazu."
"Hans Sachs was a shoe-Maker and Poet too."
For so ran the merry rime about the cobbler-poet from the fact that he would cut a word in two (just like pieces of leather) when a rime for one of its syllables struck him.
It is asking much of people to ask them to call all this to mind. Yet I would ask it of them, and when they have called it all to mind, I think they ought, if honest and fair English folk, to heave a sigh and say to themselves that it really is a pity that with all our bragging, we Teutons upon this side of the Channel have not a town among us at all comparable to this of Nürnberg.
Of Hans Sachs there is little to tell that everyone has not heard; but Goethe wrote a poem about him called "Hans Sachs' Poetical Mission" ("Hans Sachsens poetische Sendung"), which is not much known in England, and some passages from which I subjoin in an English translation:--*
"In seiner Werkstatt Sonntags früh
In his shop, as Sunday chimes,
*This poem being in the original intentionally rugged and homely, I have not aimed at grace or polish in the rendering of it.
"Lässt Pechdrath, Hammer and Kneipe rasten,
"Last and leather are now at rest,
Passing on to a description of the poet-cobbler, we learn that
"Er hätt ein Auge treu und klug:
He had eyes most wise and true,
He had a vision--not that we are told that it was a vision--indeed, it is narrated as if it were true:--
"Da tritt herein ein junges Weib,
To him there stept a Dame in haste,
She was a very perfect German "Weib," and we are told her name:--
"Man nennt sie thätig Ehrbarkeit,
Men call her Sterling Honesty,
This is very stern, but
"Wie nun der liebe Meister sich
The cheery master's eyes grow bright,
This is the genius of farce, in which species of literature Hans Sachs excelled. He is fairly puzzled.
"Wie er sich sieht so um an um,
His eyes grow dim, he's like to fall.
Out of the house they both now go,
That is a question which Hans Sachs is not long in solving to the satisfaction both of himself and the young maid. The maker of the bridal wreath becomes a bride, and Hans Sachs is the man who weds her,
"Wie er so heimlich glücklich lebt,
So happiness his life doth crown;
So Goethe: having now given an outline of the most famous poem written on Germany's great Meistersänger, it may be well to say what kind of poems the great Meistersänger himself wrote. Perhaps one of the best known is that styled "Des Königs Sohn mit den Teuffeln," The King's Son with the Devils. In it we are told how a King of Sweden had an only son of whom it was prophesied that he would lose his sight before reaching twelve years of age. To ward off this calamity, the King had the child brought up in a mountain-cavern by "zwen alte weise herren" (two old wise gentlemen), in whose charge he was removed from all possibility of accident. When safely
*A "backdoor," yes, it's very homesly, but it's in Goethe.
"Was hat am besten gefallen dir
"What has most pleasure given to thee
The laugh is not quite pleasant. It is the ugly laugh of the sixteenth century.
The mere name of another poem tells its bent. It is
"Die Wittembergsche Nachtigall,
Of Wittemburg the Nightingale
Such an inveterate rimester was the cobbler of Nürnberg that at times even his titles run into rime. This poem is, of course, an eulogium of Martin Luther, who is not altogether unfitly styled "nightingale," for he, too, was a master of song. Night, we are told, is upon the world, and a flock of sheep and young lambs are at the mercy of the lion and the wolves and of the snakes. The night is very long, and cruel are the ravages made upon the sheep, but at last the morning dawns, and the nightingale bursts into song. This is the signal for the lion and the wolves to steal away, and for the snakes to hide. The allegory is transparent. As for the metre of the poem, it is the same as that employed in the extract quoted above; a fourfooted dancing measure, which carries off the grimness of the satire.
"Als ich mein Werk so inventirt,
Now I come to reckon it,
Over six thousand works, without counting the little rimes which he has written at odd times! Hans Sachs has a lot to tell us about these works, and he does not seem to have under-estimated them; but he winds up all humility and with folded hands, like the dear, godly man that he was:--
"Gott sey Lob, der mir sandte herab,
To God be praise; he gave to me
He gets a little mixed up in his persons; what matter, quotha! Do remember that he wrote six thousand books, and may have cobbled six thousand boots.
Papers to be answered by Students of the Foregoing.
*Members may join the Bücherbund Correspondence Class at any time. Fee for one year's course, One Guinea.
*(Second Class Paper.)
Books of interest in connection with the subject of Meistergesang:--
Ausgewählte dramatische Werke von Hans Sachs.
Typed June-November 2013
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