图书图片
PDF
ePub

Give my love to your Aunt Magdalene, and kiss her for me. From your papa who loves you, Martin Luther.” If it is not a sufficient apology for the quotation of this fatherly epistle to say, that it is the talk of Martin Luther, a weightier defence may be drawn from the remark that it illustrates one of his most serious opinions. The views commonly received amongst Christians, of the nature of the happiness reserved in another state of being, for the obedient and faithful in this life, he regarded, if not as erroneous, yet as resting on no sufficient foundation, and as ill adapted to “allure to brighter worlds.” He thought that the enjoyments of heaven had been refined away to such a point of evanescent spirituality as to deprive them of their necessary attraction; and the allegory invented for the delight of little John, was but the adaptation to the thoughts of a child of a doctrine which he was accustomed to inculcate on others, under imagery more elevated than that of drums, crossbows and golden bridles. There is but one step from the nursery to the servant's hall; and they who have borne with the parental counsels to little John, may endure the following letter respecting an aged namesake of his, who was about to quit Luther's family: “We must dismiss old John with honour. We know that he has always served us faithfully and zealously, and as became a Christian servant. What have we not given to vagabonds and thankless students who have made a bad use of our money? So we will not be niggardly to so worthy a servant, on whom our money will be bestowed in a manner pleasing to God. You need not remind me that we are not rich. I would gladly give him ten florins, if I had them, but do not let it be less than five. He is not able to do much for himself. Pray help him in any other way you can. Think how this money can be raised. There is a silver cup that might be pawned. Sure I am that God will not desert us. Adieu.” Luther's pleasures were as simple as his domestic affections were pure. He wrote metrical versions of the Psalms, well described by Mr. Hallam, as holding a middle place between the doggerel of Sternhold and Hopkins, and the meretricious ornaments of the later versifiers of the Songs of David. He wedded to them music of his own, to which the most obtuse ear cannot listen without emotion. The greatest of the sons of Germany was, in this respect, a true child of that vocal land; for such was his enthusiasm for the art that he assigned to it a place second only to that of theology itself. He was also an ardent lover of painting, and yielded to Albert Durer the homage which he denied to Cajetan and Erasmus. His are amongst the earliest works embellished by the aid of the engraver. With the birds of his native country he had established a strict intimacy, watching, smiling, and thus moralizing over their habits. “That little fellow,” he said of a bird going to roost, “has chosen his shelter, and is quietly rocking himself to sleep without a care for to-morrow’s lodging, calmly holding by his little twig, and

leaving God to think for him.” The following parable, in a letter to Spalatin, is in a more ambitious strain. “You are going to Augsburg without having taken the auspices, and ignorant when you will be allowed to begin. I, on the other hand, am in the midst of the Comitia, in the presence of illustrious sovereigns, kings, dukes, grandees, and nobles, who are solemnly debating affairs of state, and making the air ring with their deliberations and decrees. Instead of imprisoning themselves in those royal caverns which you call palaces they hold their assemblies in the sunshine, with the arch of heaven for their tent, substituting for costly tapestries the foliage of trees, where they enjoy their liberty, Instead of confining themselves in parks and pleasure-grounds, they range over the earth to its utmost limits. They detest the stupid lux. uries of silk and embroidery, but all dress in the same colour, and put on very much the same looks. To say the truth, they all wear black, and all sing one tune. It is a song formed of a single note, with no variation but what is produced by the pleasing contrast of young and old voices. I have seen and heard nothing of their emperor. They have a supreme contempt for the quadruped employed by our gentry, having a much better method for setting the heaviest artillery at defiance. As far as I have been able to understand their resolutions by the aid of an interpreter, they have unanimously determined to wage war through the whole year against the wheat, oats and barley, and the best corn and fruits of every kind. There is reason to fear, that victory will attend them every where, for they are a skilful and crafty race of warriors, equally expert in collecting booty by violence and by surprise. It has afforded me great pleasure to attend their assemblies as an idle looker on. The hope I cherish of the triumphs of their valour over wheat and barley, and every other enemy, renders me the sincere and faithful friend of these patres patriae, these saviours of the commonwealth. If I could serve them by a wish, I would implore their deliverance from their present ugly name of crows. This is nonsense, but there is some seriousnesss in it. It is a jest which helps me to drive away painful thoughts.” The love of fables, which Luther thus indulged at one of the most eventful eras of his life, was amongst his favourite amusements. AEsop lay on the same table with the book of Psalms, and the two translations proceeded alternately. Except the Bible, he declared that he knew no better book; and pronounced it not to be the work of any single author, but the fruit of the labours of the greatest minds in all ages. It supplied him with endless jests and allusions; as for example,_*The dog in charge of the butcher's tray, unable to defend it from the avidity of other curs, said,—Well, then, I may as well have my share of the meal, and fell-to accordingly; which is precisely what the emperor is doing with the property of the church.” Few really great men, indeed, have hazarded a larger number of jokes in the midst of a circle of note-taking associates. They have left on record the following amidst many other memorabilia –“God made the priest. The devil set about an imitation, but he made the tonsure too large, and produced a monk.” A cup composed of five hoops or rings of glass of different colours circulated at his table. Eisleben, an Antinomian, was of the party. Luther pledged him in the following words:— “Within the second of these rings lie the ten commandments; within the next ring the creed; then comes the paternoster; the catechism lies at the bottom.” So saying, he drank it off. When Eisleben's turn came, he emptied the cup only down to the beginning of the second ring. “Ah!” said Luther, “I knew that he would stick at the commandments, and therefore would not reach the creed, the Lord's prayer, or the catechism.” It must be confessed, however, that Luther's pleas intries are less remarkable for wit or delicacy than for the union of strong sense and honest merriment. They were the careless, though not inconsiderate sport of a freespoken man, in a circle where religion and modesty, protected by an inbred reverence, did not seek the doubtful defence of conventional outworks. But pensive thoughts were the more habitual food of his overburdened mind. Neither social enjoyments, nor the tenderness of domestic life, could ever long repel the melancholy which brooded over him. It breaks out in every part of his correspondence, and tinges all his recorded conversation. “Because,” he says, “my manner is sometimes gay and joyous, many think that I am always treading on roses. God knows what is in my heart. There is nothing in this life which gives me pleasure: I am tired of it. May the Lord come quickly and take me hence. Let him come to his final judgment—I wait the blow. Let him hurl his thunders, that I may be at rest. Forty years more life! I would not purchase Paradise at such a price.” Yet, with this lassitude of the world, his contemplations of death were solemn, even to sadness. “How gloriously,” said his friend, Dr. Jonas, “does St. Paul speak of his own death. I cannot enter into this.” “It appears to me,” replied Luther, “that when meditating on that subject, even St. Paul himself could not have felt all the energy which possessed him when he wrote. I preach, write, and talk about dying, with a greater firmness than I really possess, or than others ascribe to me.” In common with all men of this temperament, he was profuse in extolling the opposite disposition. “The birds,” he says, “must fly over our heads, but why allow them to roost in our hair?” “Gayety and a light heart, in all virtne and decorum, are the best medicine for the young, or rather for all. I who have passed my life in dejection and gloomy thoughts, nor catch at enjoyment, come from what quarter it may, and even seek for it. Criminal pleasure, indeed, comes from Satan, but that which we find in the society of good and pious men is approved by God. Ride, hunt with your friends, amuse yourself in their company. Solitude and melancholy are poison. They are deadly to all, but, above all, to the young. The sombre character of Luther's mind can

not be correctly understood by those who are wholly ignorant of the legendary traditions of his native land. This remark is made and illustrated by M. Henry Heine, with that curious knowledge of such lore as none but a denizen of Germany could acquire. In the mines of Mansfield, at Eisenach and Erfurth, the visible and invisible worlds were almost equally populous; and the training of youth was not merely a discipline for the future offices of life, but an initiation into mysteries as impressive, though not quite so sublime, as those of Eleusis. The unearthly inhabitants of every land are near akin to the human cultivators of the soil. The killkropff of Saxony differed from a fairy or a hamadryad as a Saxon differs from a Frenchman or a Greek; the thin essences by which these spiritual bodies are sustained being distilled according to their various national tastes, from the dews of Hymettus, the light wines of Provence, and the strong beer of Germany. At the fireside around which Luther's family drew, in his childhood, there gathered a race of imps who may be considered as the presiding genii of the turnspit and the stable; witches expert in the right use of the broomstick, but incapable of perverting it into a locomotive engine; homely in gait, coarse in feature, sordid in their habits, with canine appetites, and superhuman powers, and, for the most part, eaten up with misanthropy. When, in his twentieth year, Luther for the first time opened the Bible, and read there of spiritual agents, the inveterate enemies of our race, these spectra were projected on a mind over which such legends had already exercised an indestructible influence. Satan and his angels crowded upon his imagination, neither as shapeless presences casting their gloomy shadows on the soul, nor as mysterious impersonations of her foul and cruel desires, nor as warriors engaged with the powers of light and love, and holiness, in the silent motionless war of antagonist energies. Luther's devils were a set of athletic, cross-grained, ill-conditioned wretches, with vile shapes and fiendish faces; who, like the monsters of dame Ursula's kitchen, gave buffet for buffet, hate for hate, and joke for joke. His Satan was not only something less than archangel ruined, but was quite below the society of that Prince of Darkness, whom mad Tom in Lear declares to be a gentleman. Possessing a sensitive rather than a creative imagination, Luther transferred the visionary lore, drawn from these humble sources, to the machinery of the great epic of revelation, with but little change or embellishment; and thus contrived to reduce to the level of very vulgar prose some of the noblest conceptions of inspired poetry. At the castle of Wartburg, his Patmos, where he dwelt the willing prisoner of his friendly sovereign, the reformer chanced to have a plate of nuts at his supper-table. How many of them he swallowed, there is, unfortunately, no Boswell to tell; yet, perhaps, not a few— for, as he slept, the nuts, animated as it would seem by the demon of the pantry, executed a sort of waltz, knocking against each other, and against the slumberer's bedstead; when, lo! the staircase became possessed by a hundrel

barrels rolling up and down, under the guidance, probably, of the imp of the spigot. Yet all approach to Luther's room was barred by chains and by an iron door—vain intrenchments against Satan! He arose, solemnly defied the fiend, repeated the eighth Psalm, and resigned himself to sleep. Another visit from the same fearful adversary at Nuremburg led to the opposite result. The reformer flew from his bed to seek refuge in society. Once upon a time, Carlostadt, the sacramentarian, being in the pulpit, saw a tall man enter the church, and take his seat by one of the burgesses of the town. The intruder then retired, betook himself to the preacher's house, and exhibited frightful symptoms of a disposition to break all the bones of his child. Thinking better of it, however, he left with the boy a message for Carlostadt, that he might be looked for again in three days. It is needless to add that, on the third day, there was an end of the poor preacher, and of his attacks on Luther and consubstantiation. In the cloisters at Wittemburg, Luther himself heard that peculiar noise which attests the devil's presence. It came from behind a stove, resembling, for all the world, the sound of throwing a fagot on the fire. This sound, however, is not invariable. An old priest, in the attitude of prayer, heard Satan behind him, grunting like a whole herd of swine. “Ah! ha! master devil,” said the priest, “you have your deserts. There was a time when you were a beautiful angel, and there you are turned into a rascally hog.” The priest's devotions proceeded without further disturbance; “for,” observed Luther, “there is nothing the devil can bear so little as contempt.” He once saw and even touched a killkropff or supposititious child. This was at Dessau. The deviling, for it had no other parent than Satan himself—was about twelve years old, and looked exactly like any other boy. But the unlucky brat could do nothing but eat. He consumed as much food as four ploughmen. When things went ill in the house, his laugh was to be heard all over it. If matters went smoothly, there was no peace for his screaming. Luther sportively asserts that he recommended the elector to have this scapegrace thrown into the Moldau, as it was a mere lump of flesh without a soul. His visions sometimes assumed a deeper significance, if not a loftier aspect. In the year 1496, a frightful monster was discovered in the Tiber. It had the head of an ass, an emblem of the pope; sor the church being a spiritual body incapable of a head, the pope, who had audaciously assumed that character, was fitly represented under this asinine figure. The right hand resembled an elephant's foot, typifying the papal tyranny over the weak and timid. The right foot was like an ox's hoof shadowing forth the spiritual oppression exercised by doctors, confessors, nuns, monks, and scholastic theologians; while the left foot armed with griffin's claws, could mean nothing else than the various ministers of the pope's civil authority. How far Luther believed in the existence of the monster, whose mysterious significations he thus interprets, it would not be easy to decide. Yet it is difficult to read his expo

sition, and to suppose it a mere pleasantry, So constantly was he haunted with this midnight crew of devils, as to have raised a serious doubt of his sanity, which even Mr. Hallam does not entirely discountenance. Yet the hypothesis is surely gratuitous. Intense study deranging the digestive organs of a man, whose bodily constitution required vigorous exercise, and whose mind had been early stored with such dreams as we have mentioned, suficiently explains the restless importunity of the goblins amongst whom he lived. It is easier for a man to be in advance of his age on any other subject than this. It may be doubted whether the nerves of Seneca or Pliny would have been equal to a solitary evening walk by the Lake Avernus. What wonder, then, if Martin Luther was convinced that suicides fall not by their own hands, but by those of diabolical emissaries, who really adjust the cord or point the knife—that particular spots, as, for example, the pool near the summit of the Mons Pilatus, were desecrated to Satanthat the wailings of his victims are to be heard in the howlings of the night wind—or that the throwing a stone into a pond in his own neighbourhood, immediately provoked such struggles of the evil spirit imprisoned below the water, as shook the neighbouring country like "an earthquake? The mental phantasmagoria of so illustrious a man are an exhibition to which no one who reveres his name would needlessly direct an unfriendly, or an idle gaze. But the infirmities of our nature often afford the best measure of its strength. To estimate the strength by which temptation is overcome, you must ascertain the force of the propensities to which it is addressed. Amongst the elements of Luther's character was an awe verging towards idolatry, for all things, whether in the works of God or in the institutions of man, which can be regarded as depositories of the Divine power, or as delegates of the Divine authority. From pantheism, the disease of imaginations at once devout and unhallowed, he was preserved in youth by his respect for the doctrines of the church; and, in later life, by his absolute surrender of his own judgment to the text of the sacred canon. But as far as a pantheistic habit of thought and feeling can consist with the most unqualified belief in the unconmunicable unity of the Divine nature, such thoughts and feelings were habitual to him. The same spirit which solemnly acknowledged the existence, whilst it abhorred the use, of the high faculties, which, according to the popular faith, the foul fiends of earth, and air, and water, at once enjoy and pervert, contemplated with almost prostrate reverence the majesty and the hereditary glories of Rome; and the apostolical succession of her pontiff, with kings and emperors of his tributaries, the Catholic hierarchy as his vicegerents, and the human mind his universal empire. To brave the vengeance of such a dynasty, wielding the mysterious keys which close the gates of hell and open the portals of heaven, long appeared to Luther an impious audacity, of which nothing less than wo, eternal and unutterable,

would be the sure and appropriate penalty

For a man of his temperament to hush these superstitious terrors, and to abjure the golden idol to which the adoring eyes of all nations, kindred, and languages were directed, was a self-conquest, such as none but the most heroic minds can achieve; and to which even they are unequal, unless sustained by an invisible but omnipotent arm. For no error can be more extravagant than that which would reduce Martin Luther to the rank of a coarse spiritual demagogue. The deep self-distrust which, for ten successive years, postponed his irreconcilable war with Rome, clung to him to the last; nor was he ever unconscious of the dazzling splendour of the pageantry which his own hand had contributed so largely to overthrow. There is no alloy of affectation in the following avowal, taken from one of his letters to Erasmus: “You must, indeed, feel yourself in some measure awed in the presence of a succession of learned men, and by the consent of so many ages, during which flourished scholars so conversant in sacred literature, and martyrs illustrious by so many miracles. To all this must be added the more modern theologians, universities, bishops, and popes. On their side are arrayed learning, genius, numbers, dignity, station, power, sanctity, miracles, and what not. On mine, Wycliff and Laurentius Walla, and though you forget to mention him, Augustine also. Then comes Luther, a mean man, born but yesterday, supported only by a few friends, who have neither learning, nor genius, nor greatness, nor sanctity, nor miracles. Put them altogether, and they have not wit enough to cure a spavined horse. What are they? What the wolf said of the nightingale—a voice, and nothing else. I confess it is with reason you pause in such a presence as this. For ten years together I hesitated myself. Could I believe that this Troy, which had triumphed over so many assaults would fall at last? I call God to witness, that I should have persisted in my fears, and should have hesitated until now, if truth had not compelled me to speak. You may well believe that my heart is not rock; and, if it were, yet so many are the waves and storms which have been beaten upon it, that it must have yielded when the whole weight of this authority came thundering on my head, like a deluge ready to overwhelm me.” The same feelings were expressed at a later time in the following words: “I daily perceive how difficult it is to overcome long cherished scruples. Oh, what pain it has cost me, though the Scripture is on my side, to defend myself to my own heart for having dared singly to resist the pope, and to denounce him as antichrist! What have been the afflictions of my bosom? How often, in the bitterness of my soul, have I pressed myself with the papist's argument,-Art thou alone wise! are all others in error! have they been mistaken for so long a time? What if you are yourself mistaken, and are dragging with you so many souls into eternal condemnation? Thus did I reason with myself, till Jesus Christ, by his own infallible word, tranquillized my heart, and sustained it against

this argument, as a reef of rocks thrown up against the waves laughs at all their fury.” He who thus acknowledged the influence, while he defied the despotism of human authority, was self-annihilated in the presence of his Maker. “I have learned,” he says, “from the Holy Scriptures that it is a perilous and a fearful thing to speak in the house of God; to address those who will appear in judgment against us, when at the last day we shall be found in his presence; when the gaze of the angels shall be directed to us, when every creature shall behold the divine Word, and shall listen till He speaks. Truly, when I think of this, I have no wish but to be silent, and to cancel all that I have written. It is a fearful thing to be called to render to God an account of every idle word.” Philip Melancthon occasionally endeavoured, by affectionate applause, to sustain and encourage the mind which was thus bowed down under the sense of unworthiness. But the praise, even of the chosen friend of his bosom, found no echo there. He rejected it, kindly indeed, but with a rebuke so earnest and passionate, as to show that the commendations of him whom he loved and valued most, were unwelcome. They served but to deepen the depressing consciousness of ill desert, inseparable from his lofty conceptions of the duties which had been assigned to him. In Luther, as in other men, the stern and heroic virtues demanded for their support that profound lowliness which might at first appear the most opposed to their development. The eye which often turns inward with self-complacency, or habitually looks round for admiration, is never long or steadfastly fixed on any more elevated object. It is permitted to no man at once to court the applauses of the world, and to challenge a place amongst the generous and devoted benefactors of his species. The enervating spell of vanity, so fatal to many a noble intellect, exercised no perceptible control over Martin Luther. Though conscious of the rare endowments he had received from Providence (of which that very consciousness was not the least important) the secret of his strength lay in the heartfelt persuasion, that his superiority to other men gave him no title to their commendations, and in his abiding sense of the little value of such praises. The growth of his social affections was impeded by self-regarding thoughts; and he could endure the frowns and even the coldness of those whose approving smiles he judged himself unworthy to receive, and did not much care to win. His was not that seeble benevolence which leans for support, or depends for existence, on the sympathy of those for whom it labours. Reproofs, sharp, unsparing, and pitiless, were familiar to his tongue, and to his pen. Such a censure he had directed to the archbishop of Mentz, which Spalatin, in the name of their common friend and sovereign, the elector Frederic, implored him to suppress. “No,” replied Luther, “in defence of the fold of Christ, I will oppose to the utmost of my power, this ravening wolf, as I have resisted others. send you my book, which was ready before your letter reached me. It has not induced

me to alter a word. The question is decided, ( himself openly and freely, careless whether he I cannot heed your objections.” They were is alone, or has others at his side. So spake such, however, as most men would have thought Jeremiah, and I may boast of having done the reasonable enough. Here are some of the same. God has not for the last thousand words of which neither friend nor sovereign years bestowed on any bishop such great gifts could dissuade the publication. "Did you as on me, and it is right that I should extol his imagine that Luther was dead? Believe it gifts. Truly, I am indignant with myself that not. He lives under the protection of that God I do not hetrtily rejoice and give thanks. Now who has already humbled the pope, and is and then I raise a faint hymn of thanksgiving, ready to begin with the archbishop of Mentz a and feebly praise Him.' Well! live or die, game for which few are prepared." To the Domini sumus. You may take the word either severe admonition which followed, the princely in the genitive or in the nominative case. prelate answered in his own person, in terms Therefore, Sir Doctor, be firm." of the most humble deference, leaving to This buoyant spirit sometimes expressed itCapito, his minister, the ticklish office of re- self in a more pithy phrase. When he first monstrating against the rigour with which the wrote against indulgences, Dr. Jerome Schurt lash had been applied. But neither soothing said to him, " What are you about ! they won't nor menaces could abate Luther's confidence allow it.” “What if they must allow it?" was in his cause, and in himself. “Christianity," the peremptory answer. he replies, " is open and honest. It sees things The preceding passages, while they illustrate as they are, and proclaims them as they are. his indestructible confidence in himself as the I am for tearing off every mask, for managing minister, and in his cause as the behest, of nothing, for extenuating pothing, for shutting Heaven, are redolent of that unseemly violence the eyes to nothing, that truth may be transpa- and asperity which are attested at once by the rent and unadulterated, and may have a free regrets of his friends, and the reproaches of his course. Think you that Luther is a man who enemies, and his own acknowledgments. So is content to shut his eyes if you can but lull fierce, indeed, and contumelious and withering him by a few cajoleries ?” “ Expect every thing is his invective, as to suggest the theory, thai, from my affections; but reverence, nay tremble in her successive transmigrations, the same for the faith.” George, duke of Saxony, the fiery soul which in one age breathed the “Dinear kinsman of Frederic, and one of the most vine Philippics," and in another, the "Letters determined enemies of the Reformation, not on a Regicide Peace," was lodged in the sixseldom provoked and encountered the same teenth century under the cowl of an August resolute defiance. “Should God call me to inian monk; retaining her indomitable energy Wittemburg, I would go there, though it should of abuse, though condemned to a temporary dirain Duke Georges for nine days together, and vorce from her inspiring genius. Yet what cach new duke should be nine times more she lost in eloquence in her transit from the furious than this.” “ Though exposed daily to Roman to the Irishman, this upbraiding spirit death in the midst of my enemies, and without more than retrieved in generous and philanany human resource, I never in my life de- thropic ardour, while she dwelt in the bosom spised any thing so heartily as these stupid of the Saxon. Luther's rage, for it is nothing threats of Duke George, and his associates in less-his scurrilities, for they are no better folly. I write in the morning fasting, with my are at least the genuine language of passion, heart filled with holy confidence. Christ excited by a deep abhorrence of imposture, lives and reigns, and I, too, shall live and tyranny, and wrong. Through the ebullitions reigr."

of his wrath may be discovered his lofty self Here is a more comprehensive denunciation esteem, but not a single movement of paerile of the futility of the attempts made to arrest vanity; his cordial scorn for fools and their his course.

folly, but not one heartless sarcasm; his burn"To the language of the fathers, of men, of ing indignation against oppressors, whether angels, and of devils, I oppose neither antiquity spiritual or secular, unclouded by so much as nor numbers, but the single word of the a passing shade of malignity. The torrent of Eternal Majesty, even that gospel which they emotion is headlong, but never turbalent. are themselves compelled to acknowledge. When we are least able to sympathize with bis Here is my hold, my stand, my resting-place, irascible feelings, it is also least in our power my glory, and my triumph. Hence I assault to refuse our admiration to a mind which, popes, Thomists, Henrycists, sophists, and all when thus torn up to its lowest depths, discloses the gates of hell. I little heed the words of no trace of envy, selfishness, or revenge, or of men, whatever may have been their sanctity, any still baser inmate. His mission from on nor am I anxious about tradition or doubtful high may be disputed, but hardly his own becustoms. The word of God is above all. If lief in it. In that persuasion, his thoughts the Divine Majesty be on my side, what care I often reverted to the prophet of Israel mocking for the rest, though a thousand Augustines, the idolatrous priests of Baal, and menacing and a thousand Cyprians, and a thousand such their still more guilty king; and if the mantle churches as those of Henry, should rise against of Elijah might have been borne with a more me? God can neither err nor deceive. August- imposing majesty, it could not have fallen on ine, Cyprian, and all the saints, can ere, and one better prepared to pour contempt on the have erred."

proudest enemies of truth, or to brave their ut“At Leipsic, at Augsburg, and at Worms, most resentment. my spirit was as free as a flower of the field.” Is it paradoxical to ascribe Luther's boiste* Ile whom God moves to speak, expresses rous invective to his inherent reverence for

« 上一页继续 »