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Christian Singers Of Germany by Catherine Winkworth

Hans Sachs

It is curious also to note that now, for the first time, Northern Germany furnishes the largest proportion of singers; hitherto the southern half of Germany had claimed nearly all its literary and poetical activity, -- now on the contrary, the North supplanted the Southern |Volkslied| on its own ground. But the South could still boast of possessing at Nuremberg the best poet of his day, the one who linked the times that were passing to the new period that was coming in, for he characteristically belonged to the Middle Ages, and yet was among the earliest and warmest adherents of the Reformation. Nuremberg itself was one of the most splendid results of those ages. It was a great free city, whose social polity was the pride of its citizens and the admiration of strangers, wealthy, and full of stirring and successful commercial enterprise; the home of the great mechanical and scientific inventions of the day; and rich in treasures of Gothic art in its streets and churches. Martin Schön was engraving, and Albert Durer was painting there, where, according to the old doggrel rhyme --

|Hans Sachs, who was a shoe-

Maker, and a poet too,|

was winding up with his own name the long roll of her |Master-singers,| and opening the way to the new style of modern poetry. Hans Sachs was the son of a tailor, and was born in 1494, during a fearful epidemic of the plague. His parents were industrious, God-fearing people, who early sent him to the grammar-school; but as his health was not strong, they thought it better he should be put to a trade than allowed to study as he wished. At fourteen, accordingly he was apprenticed to a shoemaker, but about the same time he made the acquaintance of Leonard Nunnenbeck, who was a weaver and also the most celebrated |Master-singer| of the day. Nunnenbeck remarked the boy's talent, and at once received him among his pupils; and when, at seventeen, Hans Sachs set out on his wanderings, his object was to perfect himself not only in the craft of shoemaking, but also in that of verse-making. He visited the great schools of his art in Mayence and Strasburg, and ere long made such progress that he himself acted as teacher in Frankfort and Munich. He was a favourite everywhere for his talent and his wit, but he led a singularly pure and abstemious life; and at twenty-two returned to his native city, presented his master-piecc as a shoemaker, and when admitted to the guild, married, and settled down in Nuremberg. Here he spent the rest of his long life, -- for though he was a delicate child, he lived to be eighty-one, -- working sometimes at his trade, sometimes giving instruction in the art of composition, more often engaged on his own compositions. These earned him in his own day great renown and a wide popularity, and he was the first author who lived to see a complete collected edition of his own works. It was published at Nuremberg in 1558, in five folio volumes. He was indeed a most prolific writer, surpassed only by Lopes de Vega, for he published more than six thousand poems, of course of very varying excellence. Almost every style of poetry, except the dramatic which he but slightly attempted, is largely represented among them, -- lyrical, narrative, satirical, humorous and earnest. His highest merit, which won for him the admiration of Goethe, lay in his short tales, many of which are comic, though all have some moral point, and which are told with a spirit and humour, a freshness and pathos that both render them attractive in themselves and valuable as a vivid picture of the life of his times. The greater number of his more humorous poems belong to his later years; most of his earlier ones are serious -- first love-songs of a very pure and domestic character, then poems chiefly of the political and religious class. Such works, handling the most important topics of the day and circulated on broadsheets as fast as they were written, helped to form the public opinion of the times as powerfully as newspapers do now, and it was no slight gain to the cause of the Reformation that so ready and favourite a writer should from the first have taken that side. In 1523 he published a poem which soon spread all over Germany, called the |Nightingale of Wittenberg.| It described the state of Christendom, by picturing the miseries of a poor flock of sheep which have fallen among wolves, and are especially exposed to the rapacity of a lion (Leo X.), who had craftily undertaken to defend them. Suddenly they hear the clear notes of a nightingale, foretelling the day-dawn, and the sheep who follow this voice are led out into a lovely sunny, safe meadow. His keen, shrewd rightmindedness made him appreciate how great an influence the new mode of thought would inevitably exercise on the domestic life, and also on the social and political condition of the nation; and hence many of his poems take up the questions of the honourableness of marriage, the necessity of concession on the part of the rulers, and of love of the commonwealth and readiness to make sacrifices for it on the part of the people of Germany. He saw, too, the dangers of discord and quarrels among the Reformers; and when Luther dies, he represents Theology as weeping over the coffin of the man of God, and mourning the treatment she receives at the hands of presumptuous sectaries. He comforts herby telling her that she has yet defenders left, and that Luther's doctrine has at least put an end for ever to all the monkey-tricks of relics and shrines, pretended miracles and indulgences. But he does not conceal his fears of the dissensions among Christians themselves, and exhorts them to hold fast by the pure Gospel: |Love God above all, and thy neighbour as thyself; against that doctrine ban and edict, clergy and laity, school and preaching, monks and old women, will alike be powerless.|

The most famous of his hymns is one that he wrote during the terrible siege of Nuremberg in 1561: -- |Why art thou thus cast down, my heart?| Of his others we give two; the first is called

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