The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
"Der Bucherbund."

by Elsa D'Esterre-Keeling.
Volume 2, 1891/92, pg. 439-448

[Elizabeth Henrietta Keeling, 1857-1935, was Irish, but after her father was imprisoned, she moved with her mother and three sisters to Germany. She later moved to England, opened a school, changed her name to Elsa D'Esterre-Keeling, translated German books into English, and adopted twelve children, though she never married. "Der Bücherbund" translates literally as "The Book Association."]

VI.--Germany's "Meistersänger."

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,
Stands the mighty linden planted by Queen Cunigunde's hand."

'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
Steht unser theurer Meister hie,
Sein schmutzig Schurzfell abgelegt,
Einen saubern Feierwamms er trägt,"

In his shop, as Sunday chimes,
See our Master up betimes;
His leathern apron he has doff'd,
And wears a blouse both spruce and soft;

*This poem being in the original intentionally rugged and homely, I have not aimed at grace or polish in the rendering of it.

[pg 443]

"Lässt Pechdrath, Hammer and Kneipe rasten,
Die Ahl steckt an dem Arbeitskasten;
Er ruht nun auch am sieb'nten Tag
Von manchem Zug und manchem Schlag...."

"Last and leather are now at rest,
The awl and pincers are in the chest;
Hard his work was,--wellaway!
He rests upon the seventh day...

Passing on to a description of the poet-cobbler, we learn that

"Er hätt ein Auge treu und klug:
Und war such liebevoll genug...."

He had eyes most wise and true,
A heart that depths of pity knew....

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,
Mit voller Brust und rundem Leib,
Kräftig sie auf den Füssen steht,
Grad, edel vor sich hin sie geht,
Ohne mit Schlepp und Steiss su schwenzen,
Oder mit den Augen herum zu scharlenzen...."

To him there stept a Dame in haste,
With bosom full and rounded waist,
Who on her feet right firmly stood,
A piece of noble womanhood;
She did not sway from side to side,
No passer by she boldly ey'd....

She was a very perfect German "Weib," and we are told her name:--

"Man nennt sie thätig Ehrbarkeit,
Sonst auch Grossmuth, Rechtfertigkeit.
Sie tritt mit gutem Gruss herein,
Er drob nicht mag verwundert sein;
Denn wie sie ist, so gut und schön,
Meint er, er hätt sie lang gesehn.
Die spricht: Ich habe dich auserlesen
Vor vielen in dem Weltwirrwensen,
Dass du sollst haben klare Sinnen
Nichts Ungeschicklichs magst beginnen....
Der Natur Genius an der Hand
Soll dich seigen alles Leben,
Der Menschen wunderliches Weben,
Ihr Wirren, Suchen, Stossen und Treiben,
Schieben, Reissen, Drängen und Reiben...."

Men call her Sterling Honesty,
Kind Heart and Magnanimity.
She enters with a pleasant nod,
It does not strike our friend as odd,
For, spite her beauty and her grace,
He thinks he long has known her face.
She speaks: I've work for you to do,
For 'mid the world's confusion you
I've chosen, for you will not stray
Nor aught unseemly do or say....
Nature shall lead you by the hand,
Shall be your guide thro' many a land;
She human life shall show you then,
The wondrous doings among men;
Their straying, seeking, struggling, striving,
Their pushing, tearing, clamouring, driving . . .

This is very stern, but

"Wie nun der liebe Meister sich
An der Natur freut wunninglich,
Da seht ihr an der andern Seiten
Ein altes Weiblein zu ihm gleiten!
Man nennet sie Historia,
Mythologia, Fabula....
Unser Meister das all ersicht
Und freut sich dessen wunder sam,..
Sein Geist war ganz dahin gebannt,
Er hätt kein Auge davon verwandt,
Hatt er nicht hinter seinem Rucken
Hören mit Klappern und Schellen spucken.
Da that er einen Narren spüren
Mit Bocks und Affensprüng hosiren...."

The cheery master's eyes grow bright,
So pleased is he at Nature's sight,
And, from the other side, behold,
A small dame enters, bow'd and old;
This is, we know, Dame History,
Dame Fable, Dame Mythology....
Our Master at the sight of her
Feels strangest joy his heart to stir,..
He cannot turn his eyes away,
So full his mind of her, when--stay!
Behind his back he hears a sound
As of bells ringing, and looks round.
What think you now doth meet his sight?
A fool with cap and bell bedight....

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,
Kehrt ihm das ast den Kopf herum,
Wie er wollt Worte zu allem findem?
Wie er möcht so viel Schwall verbinden?
Wie er möcht immer muthig bleiben,
So fort zu singen und zu schreiben?
Da steigt auf einer Wolke Saum
Herein zu's Oberfensters Raum
Die Muse, heilig anzuschauen,
Wie ein Vild unsrer lieben Frauen....
Sie spricht: Ich komm um dich zu wein,
Nimm meinen Segen und Gedeihn!
Ein heilig Feuer, das in dir ruht,
Schlag aus in hohe lichte Gluth!
Doch dass das Leben, das dich treibt,
Immer bei holden Kräften bleibt;
Hab ich deinem innern Wesen
Nahrun und Balsam auserlesen,
Dass deine Seel sei wonnereich,
Einer Knospe im Thaue gleich.

His eyes grow dim, he's like to fall.
His head is dizzy with it all.
How shall he tongue find, an you please,
To tell the world what here he sees?
He is, good lack, in sorry plight,
How shall he all this sing and write?
Who'd have thought it! Flown from the sky,
Up at his little window high,
The Muse doth suddenly appear,
For all the world like Our Lady dear....
She says: I come to consecrate,
Blessed be thou; thy joy be great.
A holy fire there burns in thee;
It shall leap forth where all shall see;
And that the life within thy brain
From happiness full strength may gain,
I have, to joy thine inmost sight,
A pleasing balm and heart's delight
That like a bud in dew may be,
Good Master Sachs, the soul of thee.

Da zeigt sie ihm hinter seinem Haus
Heimlich zur Hinterthür hinaus,
In dem eng unzaunten Garten,
Ein holdes Mägdein sitzend warten
Am Bächlein, beim Holunderstrauch;
Mit abgesenktem Haupt und Aug,
Sitzt unter einem Apfelbaum
Und spürt die Welt rings um sich kaum,
Hat Rosen in ihren Schooss gepflückt
Und bindet ein Kränzlein sehr geschickt,
Mit hellen knospen und Blättern drein:
Für wen mag wohl das Kränzel sein?"

Out of the house they both now go,
Out at the backdoor* on tiptoe,
Up to the little garden's gate.
Where, lo, a comely damsel sate;
Beside the brook, beside the tree,
With sunken eyes and head sat she;
Beneath an apple tree she sat,
And nothing saw, nor this nor that;
But roses in her lap she twin'd
And deftly did a garland bind,
Of leaves and buds all in a ring,
For whom might be this pretty thing?

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,
Da droben in den Wolken schwebt,
Ein Eichenkranz swing jung belaubt.
Den setzt die Nachwelt ihm auf's Haupt,
In Froschpfuhl all das Volk verbannt,
Das seinen Meister je verkannt."

So happiness his life doth crown;
And from the clouds doth now float down
An oakwreath that will never die;
We'll crown him with it, you and I;
Perish all they, or young or old,
Who would the Master's due withhold.

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.

past the age of twelve, the lad was brought back to the Court, and his father showed him all his treasures, taking him to every room in the palace, among others into the "Frauenzimmer" (the word being here used with its old sense of "ladies' chamber"), which room is full of young, fair damsels. "What are these?" asks the Prince, who has never yet seen maid or woman. "They are little devils," says the King. The boy is not shocked, for he does not know what devils are. He sees many other rooms, and then returns to the throne-hall with his father, who asks him what he likes best of all that he has seen. Here Hans Sachs shall speak for himself, and I would remark that it seems to me that his "gift divine of poesy" of which he was unco proud was separated but by a thin partition from mere doggerel:--

"Was hat am besten gefallen dir
Von allen Schätzen? Das sag mir!
Der Sohn gar schnelle antwort gab,
Herr Vatter, in den Schätzen durchab,
So haben mir in disen allen,
Die Teuffel am besten gefallen.
Da lachet alles Hofge sind."

"What has most pleasure given to thee
Of all my treasures? say to me."
The son right quickly made reply--
"Among the treasures that I did spy,
I liked the devils, sir, most of all."
Then did the Court a-laughing fall.

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,
Die man jetzt hört überall."

Of Wittemburg the Nightingale
Which now is hear in hill and dale.

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.

Lastly, I would mention as not least famous among Hans Sach's works, his own enumeration of them:--

"Als ich mein Werk so inventirt,
mit grossem Fleiss zusammensummirt
aus den Spruchbüchern um und um,
da kam in Summa Summarum,
aus Gesang und Sprüchen mit Glück,
Sechstausend acht und vierzig Stück,
aus meinen Büchern überall,
eh' mehr denn minder an der Zahl,
ohn' der so waren kurz und klein,
der' ich mit hab' geschrieben ein."

Now I come to reckon it,
All that I have sung and writ,
And transpos'd from other books,
Vastly big the total looks.
Here it is--to God be praise!--
Six thousand, eight and forty lays;
And mayhap another score,
For this is rather less than more.
I do not count the little rimes
That I have written at odd times.

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,
so mildiglich die Gottesgab,
als einem ungelehrten Mann,
der weder Latein noch Griechisch kann.
Dass mein Gedicht grün, blüh' und wachs,
und viel Frucht bring', das wünscht Hans Sachs."

To God be praise; he gave to me
The gift divine of poesy,
To me a man unlearn'd and low,
Who neither Greek nor Latin know.
May still more green my poems wax,
And bear much fruit; so prays Hans Sachs.

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.
*(First Class Paper.)
Turn the extracts from "Hans Sachsens poetische Sendug," as given in Goethe's German poetry, into German prose, retaining Goethe's words and word-arrangements where possible, and adding, in German, the linking remarks given with the English translation.

*Members may join the Bücherbund Correspondence Class at any time. Fee for one year's course, One Guinea.

*(Second Class Paper.)
1. Turn the quotation from the poem on "Des Königs Sohn kit den Teuffeln" into modern German prose.
2. Decline in the four cases--was, das (adj. and pron.), ich, du.
3. Turn into German: He pleased me best. The treasures did not please me. The father very quickly gave the son an answer. I said that to him. The Court parasites (Hofgesind) will laugh. The fiends laughed. (The words composing these sentences are all contained in the extract from "Des Königs Sohn.")

Books of interest in connection with the subject of Meistergesang:--

Ausgewählte dramatische Werke von Hans Sachs.
Augewählte poetische Werke von Hans Sachs.
The price of each of these books in England is ten pence.
(Publishers: Reclaim, Leipzig.)
Writer of Honour Paper:--Miss Maud Lloyd.

Typed June-November 2013