The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
By Elsa D'Esterre-Keeling.
XI. FABLE, DIDACTIC POETRY, AND SATIRE.
Very young children, even when very clever, do not sneer, and the same is true of very young nations. Song, which precedes prose, precedes satire, which is of the nature of prose, even when wrapt up in rime, and the early satirists of all nations are rimesters. As we know, poetry began in Germany with the Gotterepos, which was followed by the Heldenepos. This in its turn was followed by the Thierepos--beast-epie--which wonderful thing is the earliest form of German satire. The priests of the tenth century busied themselves with satirical animal-painting in words, and fragments of beast allegory were the result. In these the Latin language was employed, and, instead of the plain German name of Reinecke Fuchs, we have theses most singular and choice epithets, Echasis Captivi, Reinardus, Isengrinus. The first German epic version of Reynard the Fox (in its origin a French tale) appeared towards the close of the twelfth century, under the claptrap name of Isengrines Not. This was the work of an Alsatian, Heinrich der Glichesare, Henry the Glozer, and only portions of it have come down to our time. A century later another version of the story appeared, Reinhart Fuchs, by an unknown writer. The fifteenth century--in Germany, as in England, very barren in poetry--was rich in satire, and in it appeared a capital version in low German rime of the Dutch Reinaert. This poem was called Reinke de Vos, and opinions are divided as to whether Hermann Barkhusen or Nikolaus Baumann wrote it. It is a satire levelled at church and state, in which we are told sardonically of days in which dishonesty was such good policy that Reynard the rascal became Lord Chancellor. Here is a specimen of the old poem with the language modernized. Noble, the Lion, King of Beasts, proclaims an universal peace, and invites all the beasts to come to court.
*The reader will remember that German's great tragic epic was called "*der Nibelunge Noi."
Es war an einem Mayentag,
It was upon a day in May,
Beasts and birds, big and little, all things that walk, that creep, that fly, that run, come to Noble's court, except Reynard the Fox, who is in ill odour with the King. The many whom he has offended avail themselves of his absence to decry him, Hahn Hunning--Chanticleer--is especially bold in his laments, for Reynard has slain his daughter. "Bury her," says the King, "and then we will think of vengeance." The hen is buried, and the description of her burial is very pompous.
Als bald gebot er Jungen und Alten,
Vigilien bei der Leiche zu halten.
und dann bedeckte man das Grab
He (the king) straightway bade both young and old,
A vigil by the corpse to hold.
And on the site a headstone raise;
This is not quite reverent, but it is too childish to be quite wicked. He who can frown at it without smiling must forego reading an old poem of which it may truly be said that it is
Contemporary with the Thierepos, and enjoying large favor, there existed a species of short fable called bispel. Writers of bispel were der Strickare (the "knitter" doubtless a pseudonym) and Austrian poet who lived about 1240, the compiler of a collection of fables called Die Welt ("The World"), and Utrich Boner, a Swiss friar, who died about a century later (probably in 1349), first book printed in Germany. Very daring is old Stricker in some of his fables. In one of them he tells how a giant's wife hid behind beams in her roof twelve men who had lost their way in a wood. When the giant came home he spied them, and bade them come down. This they would not do, but threw down the weakest among them to appease the giant's anger; and then the next weakest, and then the next, and so on till there was only one of them left. Then the giant bad this one come down. "Never!" cried he, and vowed that he would fight while life was in him for his life. "You fight!" the giant sneered. "Why did you not fight when you had eleven men to help you?" And so saying he seized the lonely wight, and gobbled him, as he had gobbled the others.
"Thus does a bad mighty ruler," says the Stricker, quietly Moral: Every twelve men stick together.
Boner has a good tale, which tells of a knight and his son, the fine scholar.
Zur Schule sandt er ihn gen Pareis,
To school he sent him to far Parise,+
Meanwhile the knight though he must be becoming learned enough for a parson, and when the fine scholar came home:--
Sein Vater war unmaassen froh,
His father was unmeasured glad,
*The orthography is modernized.
In derselben Frist
Out he went the folks before,
The knight is of course abased to the earth by this exhibition of fatuity, but he carries it off with a homily addressed to the company present. From it I select the following lines as significant, and as showing that Rome is not the only place in the world whence a man may return to his home a greater fool than he was when he left it.
Wer von Natur ist ungesinnt,
Who is by nature dense and dull,
The knight's language is a little strong, but certainly he was provoked. Think of all the hopes he had built upon his son, the fine scholar!
Other forms of satire were not lacking. In Pfaffe Amis, by the Stricker, the adventures of a priest are made the subject of much mirth, and in Meier Helmbrecht, by Wernher der Gartenare, an Austrian gardener-poet, who lived contemporaneously with the Stricker, an ambitious peasant is ridiculed. The peasant made a very good butt, and is again the theme of merciless mockery with Nedihart, who in these days of the decline of Minnegesang,* made the word dorperheit (villager-hood) a term of opprobrium, and won for himself the name of Bauerfeind, the peasants' foe. The nobles, however, in their turn, met with rough treatment from Hugo von Trimberg,the schoolmaster-satirist, who died in 1309, and who has won fame through the lands (rennen durch die lant) and, consequently, called "Der Renner." In it he made rare sport of gentle-folk and gentle follies, here and there, moreover, telling a pretty tale most prettily. Thus he tells of the man who lay sick to death, and bequeathed to his son a silver coin, bidding him give it to the "greatest fool in any land." The son waited, and years went by, in the course of which no fool that he heard of seemed to him great enough to deserve the coin. At last, however, he was told of a land in which a new king was chosen every year. This king, during his twelve months' reign, might do as he pleased in everything, but at the end of that short time had to lay his head upon the block to make way for a new king. And men were found ready to do this;--here were fools indeed! The owner of the silver coin went to the coronation of the king, and bestowed on him the coin as a coronation gift.
Clever as Trimberg and other satirists of his time were, none of them approached in brilliancy Johann Fischart, a native of Mainz, who died, too young, in 1589, and whose Geschicht-klitterung (History-Scribble), dealing with the adventures of those notable heroes Gargantua and Pantagruel, is so freely imitiated from Rabelais as to be excellently German, while his "Gluckhafft Schiff von Zurich" (Lucky Ship of Zurich) tells so well what may be done by "courage, zeal and love of country" that it makes pleasant reading at this day. If any ask what may be done with the aid of these three qualities, the answer given by Fischart is that a party of bowmen may go by ship from Zurich to Strassburg in a day, and find their kettle of furmenting still warm at their journey's end. And then they can take part in a Strassburg shooting-match. Fischart could be wise and witty, and sometimes could be very serious. His rules for man and wife are excellent.
*Neidhart was the contemporary of the Stricker and Wernher.
Ein Mann soll nicht ein Sturmwind sein,
Wenn er schreiet,
That a house ruins utterly,
If he riot,
Not that according to Fischart, she is powerless.
Was von der Sonnen
What the sun's ray
Upon occasion she is to speak;
Eingesheid Frau lasst den Mann wol wüten
A wife's that's wise lets her husband rage,
Perhaps no form of satire was more popular in Reformation days than the Fable. Luther himself had translated some of Aesop's fables, and his disciples Burkhard Waldis and Alberus
*Notice the gender here given to "Sonn" (sun).
The didactic, the humorous, and the satirical had gradually been finding their way into all species of poetry. There had been moralising in the days of Kunstepos in the works of Rudolf von Ems; such works as "Barlaam", dealing with an Indian Prince who is instructed in Christianity by a hermit, and "Good Gerhart," telling of a merchant of Cologne, whose character was so noble that Otto the Great took it for his model. There had been didactic poems contemporary with Minnegesang; such are "Der Winsbeck+" and Die Winsbeckin," in the former of which a knight instructs his son not quite in the manner of Chesterfield, and in the latter of which a lady instructs her daughter not quite in the manner of Madame Sevigne. Compare with the letters of the brilliant Englishman the following sweet stanzas of the mediaeval German Knightt.++
Sohn, merke: wie das Kerzenlicht,
Sohn, willst du zieren deinen Leib,
Son, mark thou how the taper's light
Son, if thou wouldst be happy here,
The good stem they from whence we came,
"Der Walsche Gast" (Italian Stranger) is another old German didactic poem, and is one of the many proofs that there is nothing new under the sun, for in it, long before Tennyson had told us that "tis only noble to be good," or Burns had penned that idea about the guinea-stamp, or Pope had distinguished between "the man" and "the fellow", even before Chaucer had bid us look out for him who
"Most entendith aye
Thomas von Zirkearern* had written the following brave words on nobility:--
*Thirteenth century poet. The poem is modernised.
Ist einer noch so hoch geboren,
How high soever one be born,
Und were misachtet sein Gebot,
He only who ignores his nod
In days when "Bescheidenheit" meant knowledge, the work of Freidank called "Bescheidenheit" was held a real fount of wisdom, and was called "The Worldly Bible." The following is a pretty text from it:--
Ein Freund ist besser nahe bei,
One friend is better near to me
Curious are these words on death:
Ein mancher eilt so sehr zum Grabe,
I see men to their graves make speed,
The time of "Meistergesang" was of course a time rich in didactic and satirical poetry. Hans Sachs, the master of all Master-Singers, himself wrote a work called Schlaraffenland (Lubberland), the mere title of which is a satire. The Priamel, in which the Master-Singer Rosenplut excelled, was essentially didactic. The word is from a Mediaeval Late word praeambulum, meaning proverb, and this species of poem consisted of proverbs or mottoes strung together, the last line being literally the clincher. I give a sample of the "Priamel" and have attached English doggerel to the German. It is a curious production which might be called "Love's Labour's Lost," and which belongs to the time at which Shakespeare gave to England the superb play so called:--
*Died about 1229.
Wer einen Raben will baden weiss,
Whoso a raven would wash till white,
This is not very brilliant and is hardly worthy of the language employed by one to whom we now come, Sebastian Brant, one of the cleverest of the world's satirists, the author of the "Narrenschiff" (Ship of Fools), which appeared in Basle in 1494, Brant being a German-Swiss. His clever satire was made by the famous preacher Geiler von Kaiserber*; the text of a series of discourses. In it we are told how a ship full of Narren (fools) sets out for Narragonia (Fool-land). The different follies of the voyagers are so marked as to be vices, and are mercilessly exposed. He who thinks himself a fool is not taken on board, the ship sailing off with 113 passengers, all wearing caps and bells, and among them Brant himself. He is the Book-Fool. The Money-Fool, the Dress-Fool, the Title-Fool, and the Old Fool are some of his co-voyagers.
Freezingly allegorical, while didactic, is the poem of "Teuerdank,"+ belonging to the early sixteenth century,++ in which we are told how Teuerdank wins Ehrenreich$, teh daughter of Ruhmreich#. Teuerdank proves his mettle by vanquishing mighty foes, among them Turwitting (Foolhardiness), Unfalo (ill-hap), and Neidelhar (Envy). A very moral poem this. It is, indeed, to borrow words from a most moral English poet, a continued allegory or dark conceit, which will seem displeasant to some who had rather have good discipline delivered plainly in way of precept, or sermoned at large, than thus cloudily enwrapt in allegorical devices. It may be added that much good discipline is delivered in all the writings of this time, so in the Schwanke (merry tales), Possen (farces), and Volksbucher (chap-books). In many of them, to speak the plain truth, the authors drop, rather too often, into sermonising at large.
*Of him more in the next Bucherbund paper.
Questions to be answered by Club Students.
(Second Class Paper.)
Book of interest:--
Typed October 2013