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A Copy of the Order from the House of Commons
24th February, 1646.
Whereas Captain Henry Bell has strangely discovered and found a book of Martin Luther’s, called his Divine Discourses, which was for a long time very marvelously preserved in Germany; the which book, the said Henry Bell, at his great costs and pains, hath translated into the English out of the German tongue, which translation and substance thereof is approved by Reverend Divines of the Assembly, as appears by a certificate under their hands:
It is ordered and ordained by the Lords and Commons assembled in parliament, that the said Henry Bell shall have the sole disposal and benefit of printing the said book, translated into English by his as aforesaid, for the space of fourteen years, to commence from the date hereof. And that none do print or reprint the same, but such as shall be licensed by the said captain by authority under his hand.
(Vera Copia) Henry Elsyng.
The contents of the book themselves were gathered from the mouth of Luther, by his friends and disciples, and chiefly by Antony Lauterbach and John Aurifaber (Goldschmidt), who were very much with the great Reformer towards the close of his life. They consist of notes of his discourses, of his opinions, his cursory observations, in the freedom of private friendship, in his walks, during the performance of his clerical duties, and at table. The reporters were brim-full of zeal: whatever “the man of God” uttered was forthwith entered upon their tablets. They were with him at his uprising and his down-lying; they looked over his shoulder as he read or wrote his letters; did he utter an exclamation of pain or of pleasure, of joy or of sorrow, down it went: did he aspirate a thought above breath, it was caught by the intent ear of one or other of the listeners, and committed to paper. An anecdote, told by Luther himself to Dr. Zinegreff, amusingly illustrates the assiduity of these German Boswells. During a colloquy, in which Dominus Martinus was exhibiting his wonted energetic vivacity, he observed a disciple hard at work with pencil and paper. The doctor, slyly filling his huge wooden spoon with the gruel he was discussing by way of supper, rose, and going up to the absorbed notetaker, threw the gruel in his face, and said, laughingly lustily: “Put that down too.” There can be as little doubt of the completeness as of the authenticity of their notes. Filled with the most profound respect for “the venerable man of God,” they would have deemed it sacrilege to omit, or alter, or modify, aught that fell from his lips. The oracle had spoken; it was their pride and glory to repeat his words with the most scrupulous fidelity. We will describe the result, in the words of an eloquent letter to the translator, prefixed to the folio edition of 1652; -
“Herein is a full character of the free and zealous spirit of Martin Luther, who was a man of God raised in his generation with invincible courage to beat down the strongest holds of Satan, wherein for many generations he had captivated the spirits of our forefathers under popery. The depth and solidity of his judgment may be discovered in the writings which he himself did publish in his life time: but in this collection of his extemporary discourses published since his death, the fullness of his affection, and genuine readiness of his spirit, may be seen, which did incline him to advance the truth of the gospel, and manifest the testimony of Jesus upon all occasions. And truly, I have met (in that which I have looked upon), with many excellent and fundamental truths, necessary to be minded in this age, as well as in that wherein he spake them; and the gracefulness which they have in their familiar and careless dress, doth make them the more commendable to all men of ingenuity, not only of popular capacities, but even of more raised thoughts. Whence I do probably conjecture that the plainness and great variety of matters contained in these discourses, did in the first reformation ingratiate the delivery and insinuate the consideration of most eminent truths with acceptance into all men’s apprehensions, so far, as to cause the enemies of those truths to endeavour the suppressing of this book, which they found to be so much taking with everybody, and so full of deadly blows given to their superstition and hierarchy, to their profaneness, hypocrisy, and impiety.”
“We should, indeed, seek in vain elsewhere for more striking and interesting specimens of the talents, the disposition, and the manners of the great Reformer, than in this volume of his “Table-Talk.” And certainly if the personal character of any individual deserves to be dwelt upon, it is that of Luther. In no other instance have such great events depended upon the courage, sagacity, and energy, of a single man, nor can there be found a more profitable study that the temper and peculiarities of one, who, by his sole and unassisted efforts, made his solitary cell the heart and center of the most wonderful and important commotion the world ever witnessed; who, by the native force and vigour of his genius, attacked and successfully resisted, and at length overthrew the most awful and sacred authority that ever imposed its commands on mankind.”
“In perusing the work itself, we may here observe, it must always be recollected that they show the Reformer in his undress, and are not to be taken as specimens of what he wrote or preached when girded up for great occasions; - though it may be observed that, like most men of genius, there was less difference in the language and manner of Luther in private and public, than is the case with those who cannot afford to be free, homely, and familiar: - a great peculiarity of both his preaching and writing was, that despising all form and authority, he went straight to the hearts of his hearers and readers, and never hesitated to use an image or impression, however coarse or homely, provided it conveyed his meaning with liveliness and force.”
The first German edition of the Tischreden, or Table-Talk, of Martin Luther, a folio volume, was published at Eisleben, in 1566, under the editorial care of John Aurifaber. This edition was reprinted twice in 1567, and a fourth time in 1568. The last reprint is prefaced by some new pages from the pen of the editor, who complains of one Dr. Kugling, as having, in a rival edition, made material alterations of the text. This rival edition, however, would appear never to have got beyond the manuscript form; at all events, it is unknown to bibliographers. The four editions already specified are exact reproductions, the one of the other, infinite typographical blunders included. In 1569 appeared a new edition (Frankfurt, folio), with an appendix “of prophecies which the venerable man of God, just before his holy death, delivered unto divers learned theologians and ecclesiastics, with many consolatory letters, opinions, narratives, replies, etc., never before made public.” The dedication “to the Council of Rauschemberg,” dated 24th March, 1568, intimates that the editor, John Pink, had derived his new materials from various books and writings of Martin Luther. The Prophecies, it is added, were due to the research of George Walther, preacher at Halle.
Fabricius (Centifolium Lutheranum p. 301), mentions two other editions in folio, Eisleben, 1569 and 1577, but no copies of these editions are at present known.
The next editor of the Tischreden was Andrew Stangwald, a Prussian, the continuator of the Centuries of Magdeburg, who, in his preface, complains of the previous editions as very defective in their matter, and full of flagrant errors of typography. He states that his own corrected and enlarged edition had been prepared from various manuscript conversations in his possession, aided by ample marginal notes to a copy of the original edition, formerly belonging to one of Luther’s intimate associates, Dr. Joachim Merlinus. Stangwald’s compilation, which appeared in 1571 (Frankfurt), was reprinted in 1590, with a dedication to the council of Mulhausen, and a preface, wherein the editor announces a supplementary volume of colloquies and sayings, which, however, was never produced. The same text, but with Aurifaber’s preface in lieu of Stangwald’s, was reprinted in 1603 (Jena), and again in 1621 (Leipzig), and once more, after an interval of 80 years, in 1700 (Leipzig), when Stangwald’s preface was given as well as Aurifaber’s, and Walther’s collection of Prophecies appended. This arrangement was reproduced in 1723 (Dresden and Leipzig).
Another contemporary with Luther, Nicholas Selneuer, had also applied himself to the task of arranging his master’s Table-Talk, and the result of his labors, prefaced by a Life of the great Reformer, appeared in 1577, and again in 1580, folio. This edition, however, does not materially depart from the text of Stangwald.
The Tischreden, which had been hitherto excluded from the various collective editions of Luther’s German works, were incorporated by Walch in the ponderous edition of 1743 (Halle), but they were never inserted in the folio editions of the Reformer’s Latin works. A selection from them, indeed, appeared in Latin, immediately after their first publication in German. This selection (Frankfurt, 1566, 8vo.) is entitled “Silvula Sententiarum, exemplarum, Historiarum, allegoriarum, similitudinum, facetiarum,j partim ex reverendi Viri D. Martini Lutheri ac Philippi Melaethonis cum privatis tum publicis relationibus, partim ex aliorum veterum atque recentium doctorum monumentis observata.” The translator, Dr. Ericius, however, while making extracts only from Aurifaber, gives a number of articles omitted by the German editor. Next, in 155801571, Dr. Henry Peter Rebenstok, pastor of Eschersheim, sent forth in two volumes (Frankfurt-on-the-Main, 8vo.): “Colloquia, Meditationes, Consolationes, Consilia, judicia, sententiae, narrationes, responsa, facetiae, D. Martine Lutheri, pise et sanctae memorizae in mens prandiia et caense et in peregrenationibus observata et fideliter transcripta.” Dr. Rebenstok informs us that his version was rendered not from Aurifaber, but from later editors. It was from this translation, couched in the most barbarous Latin, and replete with blunders of every description, that Bayle criticised the “Colloquia Mensalia.” The edition itself, now excessively rare, is described by the Marquis du Roure, in his “Analecta-biblion,” (Techener, 1840).
Of the English translation, by Captain Bell, an account has already been given.
In preparing that translation, the captain appears to have been animated by the same closely scrupulous and somewhat indiscriminating fidelity which characterized the labors of those who compiled the original work. Some of the the more impossible facetiae, indeed, which escaped the plain-spoken German in the elasticity of post-prandial converse, the translator has omitted or modified, but the infinite repetitions of “Meditationes, Consolationes, consilia, judicia, narrationes, responsa,” in the same or closely similar words, he has reproduced with the most provoking pertinacity.
It is by the omission carefully considered - of these repetitions, that I have been enabled to give, in the present version, not merely the contents of Aurifaber’s collection, but large additions from the various other editors above specified. The chapters, in particular, of Antichrist, of the Devil and his works, and of the Turks (which Michelet specifies as peculiarly interesting), have all been materially enlarged in this way. The ample index now given is an entirely new feature.W. Hazlitt.
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