图书图片
PDF
ePub

it;* but many considerations incline me to give credit to the story.

Luther's unremitting literary labor and his sedentary mode of life, during his confinement in the Warteburg, where he was treated with the greatest kindness, and enjoyed every liberty consistent with his own safety, had begun to undermine his former unusually strong health. He suffered many and most distressing effects of indigestion and a deranged state of the digestive organs. Melancthon, whom he had desired to consult the physicians at Erfurth, sent him some de-obstruent medicines, and the advice to take regular and severe exercise. At first he followed the advice, sate and labored less, and spent whole days in the chase; but like the younger Pliny, he strove in vain to form a taste for this favorite amusement of the gods of the earth, as appears from a passage in his letter to George Spalatin, which I translate for an additional reason ;—to prove to the admirers of Rousseau, who perhaps will not be less affronted by this biographical parallel, than the zealous Lutherians will be offended, that if my comparison should turn out groundless on the whole, the failure will not have arisen either from the want of sensibility in our great reformer, or of angry aversion to those in high places, whom he regarded as the oppressors of their rightful equals. “I have been,” he writes, “ employed for two days in the sports of the field, and was willing myself to taste this bitter-sweet amusement of the great heroes : we have caught two hares, and one brace of poor little partridges. An employment this which does not ill suit quiet leisurely folks : for even in the midst of the ferrets and dogs, I have had theological fancies. But as much pleasure as the general appearance of the scene and the mere looking-on occasioned me, even so much it pitied me to think of the mystery and emblem which lies beneath it.. For what does this symbol signify, but that the devil, through his godless huntsmen and dogs, the bishops and theologians to wit, doth privily chase and catch the innocent poor little beasts? Ah! the simple and credulous souls came thereby far too plain before my eyes. Thereto comes a yet more frightful mystery : as at my earnest entreaty we had saved alive one poor little hare, and I had con

cealed it in the sleeve of my great coat, and had strolled off a · short distance from it, the dogs in the mean time found the poor

* It is not.-- Ed.

hare. Such, too, is the fury of the Pope with Satan, that he destroys even the souls that had been saved, and troubles himself little about my pains and entreaties. Of such hunting then I have had enough.” In another passage he tells his correspondent, “ You know it is hard to be a prince, and not in some degree a robber, and the greater a prince the more a robber.” Of our Henry VIII. he says, “I must answer the grim lion that passes himself off for king of England. The ignorance in the book is such as one naturally expects from a king ; but the bitterness and impudent falsehood is quite leonine.” And in his circular letter to the princes, on occasion of the peasants' war, he uses a language so inflammatory, and holds forth a doctrine which borders so near on the holy right of insurrection, that it may as well remain untranslated.

Had Luther been himself a prince he could not have desired better treatment than he received during his eight months' stay in the Warteburg ; and in consequence of a more luxurious diet than he had been accustomed to, he was plagued with temptations both from the flesh and the devil. It is evident from his letters* that he suffered under great irritability of his nervous system, the common effect of deranged digestion in men of seden, tary habits, who are at the same time intense thinkers ; and this irritability added to, and revivifying, the impressions made upon him in early life, and fostered by the theological systems of his manhood, is abundantly sufficient to explain all his apparitions and all his nightly combats with evil spirits. I see nothing improbable in the supposition, that in one of those unconscious halfsleeps, or rather those rapid alternations of the sleeping with the half-waking state, which is the true witching time,

the season Wherein the spirits hold their wont to walk, the fruitful matrix of ghosts—I see nothing improbable, that in some one of those momentary slumbers, into which the suspen

* I can scarcely conceive a more delightful volume than might be made from Luther's letters, especially from those that were written from the Warteburg, if they were translated in the simple, sinewy, idiomatic, hearty, mother-tongue of the original. A difficult task I admit—and scarcely possible for any man, however great his talents in other respects, whose favorite reading has not lain among the English writers from Edward VI. to · Charles I.

sion of all thought in the perplexity of intense thinking so often passes, Luther should have had a full view of the room in which he was sitting, of his writing-table and all the implements of study, as they really existed, and at the same time a brain-image of the devil, vivid enough to have acquired apparent outness, and a distance regulated by the proportion of its distinctness to that of the objects really impressed on the outward senses.

If this Christian Hercules, this heroic cleanser of the Augean stable of apostasy, had been born and educated in the present or the preceding generation, he would, doubtless, have holden himself for a man of genius and original power. But with this faith alone, he would scarcely have removed the mountains which he did remove. The darkness and superstition of the age, which required such a reformer, had moulded his mind for the reception of impressions concerning himself, better suited to inspire the strength and enthusiasm necessary for the task of reformation, impressions more in sympathy with the spirits whom he was to influence. He deemed himself gifted with supernatural influxes, an especial servant of heaven, a chosen warrior, fighting as the general of a small but faithful troop, against an army of evil beings, headed by the prince of the air. These were no metaphorical beings in his apprehension. He was a poet indeed, as great a poet as ever lived in any age or country; but his poetic images were so vivid, that they mastered the poet's own mind! He was possessed with them, as with substances distinct from himself: Luther did not write, he acted poems. The Bible was a spiritual, indeed, but not a figurative armory in his belief: it was the magazine of his warlike stores, and from thence he was to arm himself, and supply both shield and sword, and javelin, to the elect. Methinks I see him sitting, the heroic student, in his chamber in the Warteburg, with his midnight lamp before him, seen by the late traveller in the distant plain of Bischofsroda, as a star on the mountain! Below it lies the Hebrew Bible open, on which he gazes, his brow pressing on his palm, brooding over some obscure text, which he desires to make plain to the simple boor and to the humble artisan, and to transfer its whole force into their own natural and living tongue. And he himself does not understand it! Thick darkness lies on the original text : he counts the letters, he calls up the roots of each separate word, and questions them as the familiar spirits of an

oracle. In vain ; thick darkness continues to cover it; not a ray of meaning dawns through it. With sullen and angry hope he reaches for the Vulgate, his old and sworn enemy, the treacherous confederate of the Roman anti-Christ, which he so gladly, when he can, rebukes for idolatrous falsehoods, that had dared place

Within the sanctuary itself their shrines,

. Abominations ! Now—0 thought of humiliation—he must entreat its aid. See! there has the şly spirit of apostasy worked-in a phrase, which favors the doctrine of purgatory, the intercession of saints, or the efficacy of prayers for the dead; and what is worst of all, the interpretation is plausible. The original Hebrew might be forced into this meaning: and no other meaning seems to lie in it, none to hover above it in the heights of allegory, none to lurk beneath it even in the depths of cabala! This is the work of the tempter; it is a cloud of darkness conjured up between the truth of the sacred letters and the eyes of his understanding, by the malice of the evil one, and for a trial of his faith! Must he then at length confess, must he subscribe the name of Luther to an exposition which consecrates a weapon for the hand of the idolatrous hierarchy ? Never! never!

There still remains one auxiliary in reserve, the translation of the Seventy. The Alexandrine Greeks, anterior to the Church itself, could intend no support to its corruptions—the Septuagint will have profaned the altar of truth with no incense for the nostrils of the universal bishop to snuff up. And here again his hopes are baffled! Exactly at this perplexed passage had the Greek translator given his understanding a holiday, and made his pen supply its place. O honored Luther! as easily mightest thou convert the whole city of Rome, with the Pope and the conclave of cardinals inclusively, as strike a spark of light from the words, and nothing but words, of the Alexandrine version. Disappointed, despondent, enraged, ceasing to think, yet continuing his brain on the stretch in solicitation of a thought; and gradually giving himself up to angry fancies, to recollections of past persecutions, to uneasy fears and inward defiances and floating images of the evil being, their supposed personal author; he sinks without perceiving it, into a trance of slumber ; during which his brain retains its waking energies, excepting that what would have been mere thoughts before, now—the action and counterweight of his senses and of their impressions being with. drawn-shape and condense themselves into things, into realities. Repeatedly half-wakening, and his eyelids as often reclosing, the objects which really surround him form the place and scenery of his dream. All at once he sees the arch-fiend coming forth on the wall of the room, from the very spot, perhaps, on which his eyes had been fixed vacantly during the perplexed moments of his former meditation : the inkstand which he had at the same time been using, becomes associated with it: and in that struggle of rage, which in these distempered dreams almost constantly precedes the helpless terror by the pain of which we are finally awakened, he imagines that he hurls it at the intruder, or not improbably in the first instant of awakening, while yet both his imagination and his eyes are possessed by the dream, he actually hurls it. Some weeks after, perhaps, during which interval he had often mused on the incident, undetermined whether to deem it a visitation of Satan to him in the body or out of the body, he discovers for the first time the dark spot on his wall, and receives it as a sign and pledge vouchsafed to him of the event having actually taken place.

Such was Luther under the influences of the age and country in and for which he was born. Conceive him a citizen of Geneva, and a contemporary of Voltaire : suppose the French language his mother-tongue, and the political and moral philosophy of English free-thinkers re-modelled by Parisian fort esprits, to have been the objects of his study ;-conceive this change of circumstances, and Luther will no longer dream of fiends or of antiChrist-but will he have no dreams in their place ? His melancholy will have changed its drapery; but will it find no new costume wherewith to clothe itself ? His impetuous temperament, his deep working mind, his busy and vivid imaginations—would they not have been a trouble to him in a world, where nothing was to be altered, where nothing was to obey his power, to cease to be that which it had been, in order to realize his pre-conceptions of what it ought to be? His sensibility, which found ob

jects for itself, and shadows of human suffering in the harmless brute, and even in the flowers which he trod upon-might it not naturally, in an unspiritualized age, have wept, and trembled, and dissolved, over scenes of earthly passion, and the struggles of

« 上一页继续 »