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Chronicles of the Schonberg-Cotta Family By Elizabeth Rundle Charles Characters: 30681

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Extracts from Friedrich's Chronicle.

Erfurt, 1505.

The university seems rather a cold world after the dear old home at Eisenach. But it went to my heart to see how our mother and Elsè struggle, and how worn and thin they look. Happily for them, they have still hope in the great invention, and I would not take it away for the world. But meantime, I must at once do something to help. I can sometimes save some viands from my meals, which are portioned out to us liberally on this foundation, and sell them; and I can occasionally earn a little by copying themes for the richer students, or sermons and postils for the monks. The printing-press has certainly made that means of maintenance more precarious; but printed books are still very dear, and also very large, and the priests are often glad of small copies of fragments of the postils, or orations of the fathers, written off in a small, clear hand, to take with them on their circuits around the villages. There is also writing to be done for the lawyers, so that I do not despair of earning something: and if my studies are retarded a little, it does not so much matter. It is not for me to aspire to great things, unless, indeed, they can be reached by small and patient steps. I have a work to do for the family. My youth must be given to supporting them by the first means I can find. If I succeed, perhaps Christopher or Pollux will have leisure to aim higher than I can; or, perhaps, in middle and later life I myself shall have leisure to pursue the studies of these great old classics, which seem to make the horizon of our thoughts so wide, and the world so glorious and large, and life so deep. It would certainly be a great delight to devote one's self, as Martin Luther is now able to do, to literature and philosophy. His career is opening nobly. This spring he has taken his degree as Master of Arts, and he has been lecturing on Aristotle's physics and logic. He has great power of making dim things clear, and old things fresh. His lectures are crowded. He is also studying law, in order to qualify himself for some office in the State. His parents (judging from his father's letters) seem to centre all their hopes in him; and it is almost the same here at the university. Great things are expected of him; indeed there scarcely seems any career that is not open to him. And he is a man of such heart, as well as intellect, that he seems to make all the university, the professors as well as the students, look on him as a kind of possession of their own. All seem to feel a property in his success. Just as it was with our little circle at Eisenach, so it is with the great circle at the university. He is our Master Martin; and in every step of his ascent we ourselves feel a little higher. I wonder, if his fame should indeed spread as we anticipate, if it will be the same one day with all Germany? if the whole land will say exultingly by-and-by-our Martin Luther?

Not that he is without enemies; his temper is too hot and his heart too warm for that negative distinction of phlegmatic negative natures.

June, 1505.

Martin Luther came to me a few days since, looking terribly agitated. His friend Alexius has been assassinated, and he takes it exceedingly to heart; not only, I think, because of the loss of one he loved, but because it brings death so terribly near, and awakens again those questionings which I know are in the depths of his heart, as well as of mine, about God, and judgment, and the dark, dread future before us, which we cannot solve, yet cannot escape nor forget.

To-day we met again, and he was full of a book he had discovered in the university library, where he spends most of his leisure hours. It was a Latin Bible, which he had never seen before in his life. He marvelled greatly to see so much more in it than in the Evangelia read in the churches, or in the Collections of Homilies. He was called away to lecture, or, he said, he could have read on for hours. Especially one history seems to have impressed him deeply. It was in the Old Testament. It was the story of the child Samuel and his mother Hannah. "He read it quickly through," he said, "with hearty delight and joy; and because this was all new to him, he began to wish from the bottom of his heart that God would one day bestow on him such a book for his own."

I suppose it is the thought of his own pious mother which makes this history interest him so peculiarly. It is indeed a beautiful history, as he told it me, and makes one almost wish one had been born in the times of the old Hebrew monarchy. It seems as if God listened so graciously and readily then to that poor sorrowful woman's prayers. And if we could only, each of us, hear that voice from heaven, how joyful it would be to reply, like that blessed child, "Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth;" and then to learn, without possibility of mistake, what God really requires of each of us. I suppose, however, the monks do feel as sure of their vocation as the holy child of old, when they leave home and the world for the service of the Church. It would be a great help if other people had vocations to their various works in life, like the prophet Samuel and (I suppose) the monks, that we might all go on fearlessly, with a firm step, each in his appointed path, and feel sure that we are doing the right thing, instead of perhaps drawing down judgments on those we would die to serve, by our mistakes and sins. It can hardly be intended that all men should be monks and nuns. Would to heaven, therefore, that laymen had also their vocation, instead of this terrible uncertainty and doubt that will shadow the heart at times, that we may have missed our path (as I did that night in the snow-covered forest), and, like Cain, be flying from the presence of God, and gathering on us and ours his curse.

July 12, 1505.

There is a great gloom over the university. The plague is among us. Many are lying dead who, only last week, were full of youth and hope. Numbers of the professors, masters, and students have fled to their homes, or to various villages in the nearest reaches of the Thuringian forest. The churches are thronged at all the services. The priests and monks (those who remain in the infected city) take advantage of the terror the presence of the pestilence excites, to remind people of the more awful terrors of that dreadful day of judgment and wrath which no one will be able to flee. Women, and sometimes men, are borne fainting from the churches, and often fall at once under the infection, and never are seen again. Martin Luther seems much troubled in mind. This epidemic, following so close on the assassination of his friend, seems to overwhelm him. But he does not talk of leaving the city. Perhaps the terrors which weigh most on him are those the preachers recall so vividly to us just now, from which there is no flight by change of place, but only by change of life. During this last week, especially since he was exposed to a violent thunder-storm on the high road near Erfurt, he has seemed strangely altered. A deep gloom is on his face, and he seems to avoid his old friends. I have scarcely spoken to him.

July 14.

To-day, to my great surprise, Martin has invited me and several other of his friends to meet at his rooms on the day after to-morrow, to pass a social evening in singing and feasting. The plague has abated; yet I rather wonder at any one thinking of merry-making yet. They say, however, that a merry heart is the best safe-guard.

July 17.

The secret of Martin Luther's feast is opened now. The whole university is in consternation. He has decided on becoming a monk. Many think it is a sudden impulse, which may yet pass away. I do not. I believe it is the result of the conflict of years, and that he has only yielded, in this act, to convictions which have been recurring to him continually during all his brilliant university career.

Never did he seem more animated than yesterday evening. The hours flew by in eager, cheerful conversation. A weight seemed removed from us. The pestilence was departing; the professors and students were returning. We felt life resuming its old course, and ventured once more to look forward with hope. Many of us had completed our academical course, and were already entering the larger world beyond-the university of life. Some of us had appointments already promised, and most of us had hopes of great things in the future; the less definite the prospects, perhaps the more brilliant. Martin Luther did not hazard any speculations as to his future career; but that surprised none of us. His fortune, we said, was insured already; and many a jesting claim was put in for his future patronage, when he should be a great man.

We had excellent music also, as always at any social gathering where Martin Luther is. His clear, true voice was listened to with applause in many a well-known song, and echoed in joyous choruses afterward by the whole party. So the evening passed, until the university hour for repose had nearly arrived; when suddenly, in the silence after the last note of the last chorus had died away, he bid us all farewell; for on the morrow, he said, he purposed to enter the Augustinian monastery as a novice! At first, some treated this as a jest; but his look and bearing soon banished that idea. Then all earnestly endeavoured to dissuade him from his purpose. Some spoke of the expectations the university had formed of him-others, of the career in the world open to him; but at all this he only smiled. When, however, one of us reminded him of his father, and the disappointment it might cause in his home, I noticed that a change came over his face, and I thought there was a slight quiver on his lip. But all,-friendly remark, calm remonstrance, fervent, affectionate entreaties,-all were unavailing.

"To-day," he said, "you see me; after this you will see me no more."

Thus we separated. But this morning, when some of his nearest friends went to his rooms early, with the faint hope of yet inducing him to listen, while we pressed on him the thousand unanswerable arguments which had occurred to us since we parted from him, his rooms were empty, and he was nowhere to be found. To all our inquiries we received no reply but that Master Martin had gone that morning, before it was light, to the Augustinian cloister.

Thither we followed him, and knocked loudly at the heavy convent gates. After some minutes they were slightly opened, and a sleepy porter appeared.

"Is Martin Luther here?" we asked.

"He is here!" was the reply; not, we thought, without a little triumph in the tone.

"We wish to speak with him," demanded one of us.

"No one is to speak with him," was the grim rejoinder.

"Until when?" we asked.

There was a little whispering inside, and then came the decisive answer, "Not for a month at least."

We would have lingered to parley further, but the heavy nailed doors were closed against us, we heard the massive bolts rattle as they were drawn, and all our assaults with fists or iron staffs on the convent gates, from that moment did not awaken another sound within.

"Dead to the world, indeed!" murmured one at length; "the grave could not be more silent."

Baffled, and hoarse with shouting, we wandered back again to Martin Luther's rooms. The old familiar rooms, where we had so lately spent hours with him in social converse; where I and many of us had spent so many an hour in intimate, affectionate intercourse,-his presence would be there no more; and the unaltered aspect of the mute, inanimate things only made the emptiness and change more painful by the contrast.

And yet, when we began to examine more closely, the aspect of many things was changed. His flute and lute, indeed, lay on the table, just as he had left them on the previous evening. But the books-scholastic, legal, and classical-were piled up carefully in one corner, and directed to the booksellers. In looking over the well-known volumes, I only missed two, Virgil and Plautus; I suppose he took these with him. Whilst we were looking at a parcel neatly rolled up in another place, the old man who kept his rooms in order came in, and said, "That is Master Martin's master's robe, his holiday attire, and his master's ring. They are to be sent to his parents at Mansfeld."

A choking sensation came over me as I thought of the father who had struggled so hard to maintain his son, and had hoped so much from him, receiving that packet. Not from the dead. Worse than from the dead, it seemed to me. Deliberately self-entombed; deliberately with his own hands building up a barrier between him and all who love him best. With the dead, if they are happy, we may hold communion-at least the Creed speaks of the communion of saints; we may pray to them; or, at the worst, we may pray for them. But between the son in the convent and the father at Mansfeld the barrier is not merely one of stone and earth. It is of the impenetrable iron of will and conscience. It would be a temptation now for Martin Luther to pour out his heart in affectionate words to father, mother, or friend.

And yet, if he is right,-if the flesh is only to be subdued, if God is only to be pleased, if heaven is only to be won in this way,-it is of little moment indeed what the suffering may be to us or any belonging to us in this fleeting life, down which the grim gates of death which close it, ever cast their long shadow.

May not Martin serve his family better in the cloister than at the emperor's court, for is not the cloister the court of a palace more imperial?-we may say, the very audience-chamber of the King of kings. Besides, if he had a vocation, what curse might not follow despising it? Happy for those whose vocation is so clear that they dare not disobey it; or whose hearts are so pure that they would not if they dared!

July 19.

These two days the university has been in a ferment at the disappearance of Martin Luther. Many are indignant with him, and more with the monks, who, they say, have taken advantage of a fervent impulse, and drawn him into their net. Some, however, especially those of the school of Mutianus-the Humanists-laugh, and say there are ways through the cloister to the court,-and even to the tiara. But those misunderstand Martin. We who know him are only too sure that he will be a true monk, and that for him there is no gate from the cloister back into the world.

It appears now that he had been meditating this step more than a fortnight.

On the first of this month (July) he was walking on the road between Erfurt and Stotterheim, when a thunder-storm which had been gathering over the Thuringian forest, and weighing with heavy silence on the plague-laden air, suddenly burst over his head. He was alone, and far from shelter. Peal followed peal, succeeded by terrible silences; the forked lightning danced wildly around him, until at length one terrific flash tore up the ground at his feet, and nearly stunned him. He was alone, and far from shelter; he felt his soul equally alone and unsheltered. The thunder seemed to him the angry voice of an irresistible, offended God. The next flash might wither his body to ashes, and smite his soul into the flames it so terribl

y recalled; and the next thunder-peal which followed might echo like the trumpet of doom over him lying unconscious, deaf, and mute in death. Unconscious and mute as to his body! but who could imagine to what terrible intensity of conscious, everlasting anguish his soul might have awakened; what wailings might echo around his lost spirit, what cries of unavailing entreaty he might be pouring forth? Unavailing then! not, perhaps wholly unavailing now! He fell on his knees,-he prostrated himself on the earth, and cried in his anguish and terror, "Help, beloved St. Anne, and I will straightway become a monk."

The storm rolled slowly away; but the irrevocable words had been spoken, and the peals of thunder, as they rumbled more and more faintly in the distance, echoed on his heart like the dirge of all his worldly life.

He reached Erfurt in safety, and, distrustful of his own steadfastness, breathed nothing of his purpose except to those who would, he thought, sustain him in it. This was no doubt the cause of his absent and estranged looks, and of his avoiding us during that fortnight.

He confided his intention first to Andrew Staffelstein, the rector of the university, who applauded and encouraged him, and took him at once to the new Franciscan cloister. The monks received him with delight, and urged his immediately joining their order. He told them he must first acquaint his father of his purpose, as an act of confidence only due to a parent who had denied himself so much and toiled so hard to maintain his son liberally at the university. But the rector and the monks rejoined that he must not consult with flesh and blood; he must "forsake father and mother, and steal away to the cross of Christ." "Whoso putteth his hand to the plough and looketh back," said they, "is not worthy of the kingdom of God." To remain in the world was peril. To return to it was perdition.

A few religious women to whom the rector mentioned Martin's intentions, confirmed him in them with fervent words of admiration and encouragement.

Did not one of them relent, and take pity on his mother and his father? And yet, I doubt if Martin's mother would have interposed one word of remonstrance between him and the cloister. She is a very religious woman. To offer her son, her pride, to God, would have been offering the dearest part of herself; and women have a strength in self-sacrifice, and a mysterious joy, which I feel no doubt would have carried her through.

With Martin's father it would no doubt have been different. He has not a good opinion of the monks, and he has a very strong sense of paternal and filial duty. He, the shrewd, hard-working, successful peasant, looks on the monks as a company of drones, who, in imagining they are giving up the delights of the world, are often only giving up its duties. He was content to go through any self-denial and toil that Martin, the pride of the whole family, might have scope to develop his abilities. But to have the fruit of all his counsel, and care, and work buried in a convent, will be very bitter to him. It was terrible advice for the rector to give his son. And yet, no doubt, God has the first claim; and to expose Martin to any influence which might have induced him to give up his vocation, would have been perilous indeed. No doubt the conflict in Martin's heart was severe enough as it was. His nature is so affectionate, his sense of filial duty so strong, and his honour and love for his parents so deep. Since the step is taken, Holy Mary aid him not to draw back!

December, 1505.

This morning I saw a sight I never thought to have seen. A monk, in the grey frock and cowl of the Augustinians, was pacing slowly through the streets with a heavy sack on his shoulders. The ground was covered with snow, his feet were bare; but it was no unfrequent sight, and I was idly and half-unconsciously watching him pause at door after door, and humbly receiving any contributions that were offered, stow them away in the convent-sack, when at length he stopped at the door of the house I was in, and then, as his face turned up towards the window where I stood, I caught the eye of Martin Luther!

I hurried to the door with a loaf in my hand, and, before offering it to him, would have embraced him as of old; but he bowed low as he received the bread, until his forehead nearly touched the ground, and, murmuring a Latin "Gratias," would have passed on.

"Martin," I said, "do you not know me?"

"I am on the service of the convent," he said. "It is against the rules to converse or to linger."

It was hard to let him go without another word.

"God and the saints help thee, Brother Martin!" I said.

He half turned, crossed himself, bowed low once more, as a maid-servant threw him some broken meat, said meekly, "God be praised for every gift he bestoweth," and went on his toilsome quest for alms with stooping form and downcast eyes. But how changed his face was! The flush of youth and health quite faded from the thin, hollow cheeks; the fire of wit and fancy all dimmed in the red, sunken eyes! Fire there is indeed in them still, but it seemed to me of the kind that consumes-not that warms and cheers.

They are surely harsh to him at the convent. To send him who was the pride and ornament of the university not six months ago, begging from door to door, at the houses of friends and pupils, with whom he may not even exchange a greeting! Is there no pleasure to the obscure and ignorant monks in thus humbling one who was so lately so far above them? The hands which wield such rods need to be guided by hearts that are very noble or very tender. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that Brother Martin inflicts severer discipline on himself than any that can be laid on him from without. It is no external conflict that has thus worn and bowed him down in less than half a year.

I fear he will impose some severe mortification or himself for having spoken those few words to which I tempted him.

But if it is his vocation, and if it is for heaven, and if he is thereby earning merits to bestow on others, any conflict could no doubt be endured!

July, 1506.

Brother Martin's novitiate has expired, and he has taken the name of Augustine, but we shall scarcely learn to call him by it. Several of us were present a few days since at his taking the final vows in the Augustinian Church. Once more we heard the clear, pleasant voice which most of us had heard, in song and animated conversation, on that farewell evening. It sounded weak and thin, no doubt with fasting. The garb of the novice was laid aside, the monk's frock was put on, and kneeling below the altar steps, with the prior's hands on his bowed head, he took the vow in Latin:-

"I, Brother Martin, do make profession and promise obedience unto Almighty God, unto Mary, ever virgin, and unto thee, my brother, prior of this cloister, in the name and in the stead of the general prior of the order of the Eremites of St. Augustine, the bishop and his regular successors, to live in poverty and chastity after the rule of the said St. Augustine until death."

Then the burning taper, symbol of the lighted and ever-vigilant heart, was placed in his hand. The prior murmured a prayer over him, and instantly from the whole of the monks burst the hymn, "Veni Sancte Spiritus."

He knelt while they were singing; and then the monks led him up the steps into the choir, and welcomed him with the kiss of brotherhood.

Within the screen, within the choir, among the holy brotherhood inside, who minister before the altar! And we, his old friends, left outside in the nave, separated from him for ever by the screen of that irrevocable vow!

For ever! Is it for ever? Will there indeed be such a veil, an impenetrable barrier, between us and him at the judgment-day? And we outside? A barrier impassable for ever then, but not now, not yet.

January, 1507.

I have just returned from another Christmas at home. Things look a little brighter there. This last year, since I took my master's degree, I have been able to help them a little more effectually with the money I receive from my pupils. It was a delight to take our dear, self-denying, loving Elsè a new dress for holidays, although she protested her old crimson petticoat and black jacket were as good as ever. The child Eva has still that deep, calm, earnest look in her eyes, as if she saw into the world of things unseen and eternal, and saw there what filled her heart with joy. I suppose it is that angelic depth of her eyes, in contrast with the guileless, rosy smile of the child-like lips, which gives the strange charm to her face, and makes one think of the pictures of the child-angels.

She can read the Church Latin now easily, and delights especially in the old hymns. When she repeats them in that soft, reverent, childish voice, they seem to me deeper and more sacred than when sung by the fullest choir. Her great favourite is St. Bernard's "Jesu Dulcis Memoria," and his "Salve Caput Cruentatum;" but some verses of the "Dies Ir?" also are very often on her lips. I used to hear her warbling softly about the house, or at her work, with a voice like a happy dove hidden in the depths of some quiet wood,-

"Querens me sedisti lassus,"

Jesu mi dulcissime, Domine c?lorum,

Conditor omnipotens, Rex universorum;

Quis jam actus sufficit mirari gestorum,

Qu? te ferie compulit salus miserorum.

Te de c?lo caritas traxit animarum,

Pro quibus palatium deserens pr?clarum;

Miseram ingrediens vallum lacrymarum,

Opus durum suscipis, et iter amarum.[3]

The sonorous words of the ancient imperial language sound so sweet and strange, and yet so familiar from the fresh childish voice. Latin seems from her lips no more a dead language. It is as if she had learned it naturally in infancy from listening to the songs of the angels, who watched her in her sleep, or from the lips of a sainted mother bending over her pillow from heaven.

One thing, however, seems to disappoint little Eva. She has a sentence taken from a book her father left her before he died, but which she was never allowed to see afterwards. She is always hoping to find the book in which this sentence was, and has not yet succeeded.

I have little doubt myself that the book was some heretical volume belonging to her father, who was executed for being a Hussite. It is to be hoped, therefore, she will never find it. She did not tell me this herself, probably because Elsè, to whom she mentioned it, discouraged her in such a search. We all feel it is a great blessing to have rescued that innocent heart from the snares of those pernicious heretics, against whom our Saxon nation made such a noble struggle. There are not very many of the Hussites left now in Bohemia. As a national party they are indeed destroyed, since the Calixtines separated from them. There are, however, still a few dragging out a miserable existence among the forests and mountains; and it is reported that these opinions have not yet even been quite crushed in the cities, in spite of the vigorous measures used against them, but that not a few secretly cling to their tenets, although outwardly conforming to the Church. So inveterate is the poison of heresy, and so great the danger from which little Eva has been rescued.

Erfurt, May 2, 1507.

To-day once more the seclusion and silence which have enveloped Martin Luther since he entered the cloister have been broken. This day he has been consecrated priest, and has celebrated his first mass. There was a great feast at the Augustinian convent; offerings poured in abundance into the convent treasury, and Martin's father, John Luther, came from Mansfeld to be present at the ceremony. He is reconciled at last to his son (whom for a long time he refused to see); although not, I believe, to his monastic profession. It is certainly no willing sacrifice on the father's part. And no wonder. After toiling for years to place his favourite son in a position where his great abilities might have scope, it must have been hard to see everything thrown away just as success was attained, for what seemed to him a willful, superstitious fancy. And without a word of dutiful consultation to prepare him for the blow!

Having, however, at last made up his mind to forgive his son, he forgave him like a father, and came in pomp with precious gifts to do him honour. He rode to the convent gate with an escort of twenty horsemen, and gave his son a present of twenty florins.

Brother Martin was so cheered by the reconciliation, that at the ordination feast he ventured to try to obtain from his father not only pardon, but sanction and approval. It was of the deepest interest to me to hear his familiar eloquent voice again, pleading for his father's approval. But he failed. In vain he stated in his own fervent words the motives that had led to his vow; in vain did the monks around support and applaud all he said. The old man was not to be moved.

"Dear father," said Martin, "what was the reason of thy objecting to my choice to become a monk? Why wert thou then so displeased, and perhaps art not reconciled yet? It is such a peaceful and godly life to live."

I cannot say that Brother Martin's worn and furrowed face spoke much for the peacefulness of his life; but Master John Luther boldly replied in a voice that all at the table might hear,-

"Didst thou never hear that a son must be obedient to his parents? And, you learned men, did you never read the Scriptures, 'Thou shalt honour thy father and thy mother?' God grant that those signs you speak of may not prove to be lying wonders of Satan."

Brother Martin attempted no defence. A look of sharp pain came over his face, as if an arrow had pierced his heart; but he remained quite silent.

Yet he is a priest; he is endued with a power never committed even to the holy angels-to transubstantiate bread into God-to sacrifice for the living and the dead.

He is admitted into the inner circle of the court of heaven.

He is on board that sacred ark which once he saw portrayed at Magdeburg, where priests and monks sail safely amidst a drowning world. And what is more, he himself may, from his safe and sacred vessel, stoop down and rescue perishing men; perhaps confer unspeakable blessings on the soul of that very father whose words so wounded him.

For such ends well may he bear that the arrow should pierce his heart.

Did not a sword pierce thine, O mournful mother of consolations?

And he is certain of his vocation. He does not think as we in the world so often must, "Is God leading me, or the devil? Am I resisting His higher calling in only obeying the humbler call of every-day duty? Am I bringing down blessings on those I love, or curses?"

Brother Martin, without question, has none of these distracting doubts. He may well bear any other anguish which may meet him in the ways of God, and because he has chosen them. At least he has not to listen to such tales as I have heard lately from a young knight, Ulrich von Hutton, who is studying here at present, and has things to relate of the monks, priests, and bishops in Rome itself which tempt one to think all invisible things a delusion, and all religion a pretence.

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