Master Martin, the Cooper, and his Journeyman, by E. T. A. Hoffmann

How Master Martin was elected “Candle-master” and how he returned thanks therefor.

On the 1st of May, 1580, in accordance with traditionary custom and usage, the honourable guild of coopers, or wine-cask makers, of the free Imperial Town of Nuremberg, held with all due ceremony a meeting of their craft. A short time previously one of the presidents, or “Candle-masters,” as they were called, had been carried to his grave; it was therefore necessary to elect a successor. Choice fell upon Master Martin. And in truth there was scarcely another who could be measured against him in the building of strong and well-made casks; none understood so well as he the management of wine in the cellar;1 hence he counted amongst his customers very many men of distinction, and lived in the most prosperous circumstances — nay, almost rolled in riches. Accordingly, after Martin had been elected, the worthy Councillor Jacobus Paumgartner, who, in his official character of syndic,2 presided over the meeting, said, “You have done bravely well, friends, to choose Master Martin as your president, for the office could not be in better hands. He is held in high esteem by all who know him, not only on account of his great skill, but on account of his ripe experience in the art of keeping and managing the rich juice of the grape. His steady industry and upright life, in spite of all the wealth he has amassed, may serve as an example to you all. Welcome then a thousand times, goodman Master Martin, as our honoured president.”

With these words Paumgartner rose to his feet and took a few steps forward, with open arms, expecting that Martin would come to meet him. The latter immediately placed both his hands upon the arms of his chair and raised himself as expeditiously as his portly person would permit him to rise — which was only slowly and heavily. Then just as slowly he strode into Paumgartner’s hearty embrace, which, however, he scarcely returned. “Well,” said Paumgartner, somewhat nettled at this, “well, Master Martin, are you not altogether well pleased that we have elected you to be our ‘Candle-master’?” Master Martin, as was his wont, threw his head back into his neck, played with his fingers upon his capacious belly, and, opening his eyes wide and thrusting forward his under-lip with an air of superior astuteness, let his eyes sweep round the assembly. Then, turning to Paumgartner, he began, “Marry, my good and worthy sir, why should I not be altogether well pleased, seeing that I receive what is my due? Who refuses to take the reward of his honest labour? Who turns away from his threshold the defaulting debtor when at length he comes to pay his long standing debt? What! my good sirs,” and Martin turned to the masters who sat around, “what! my good sirs, has it then occurred to you at last that I— I must be president of our honourable guild? What do you look for in your president? That he be the most skilful in workmanship? Go look at my two-tun cask made without fire,3 my brave masterpiece, and then come and tell me if there’s one amongst you dare boast that, so far as concerns thoroughness and finish, he has ever turned out anything like it. Do you desire that your president possess money and goods? Come to my house and I will throw open chests and drawers, and you shall feast your eyes on the glitter of the sparkling gold and silver. Will you have a president who is respected by noble and base-born alike? Only ask our honoured gentlemen of the Council, ask the princes and noblemen around our good town of Nuremberg, ask his Lordship, the Bishop of Bamberg, ask what they all think of Master Martin? Oh! I— I don’t think you’ll hear much said against him.” At the same time Master Martin struck his big fat belly with the greatest self-satisfaction, smiling with his eyes half-closed. Then, as all remained silent, nothing being heard except a dubious clearing of the throat here and there, he continued, “Ay! ay! I see. I ought, I know very well, to thank you all handsomely that in this election the good Lord above has at last seen fit to enlighten your minds. Well, when I receive the price of my labour, when my debtor repays me the borrowed money, I write at the bottom of the bill or of the receipt my ‘Paid with thanks, Thomas4 Martin, Master-cooper here.’ Let me then thank you all from my heart, since in electing me to be your president and ‘Candle-master’ you have wiped out an old debt. As for the rest, I pledge you that I will discharge the duties of my office with all fidelity and uprightness. In the hour of need I will stand by the guild and by each of you to the very best of my abilities with word and deed. I will exert the utmost diligence to uphold the honour and fame of our celebrated handicraft, without bating one jot of its present credit. My honoured syndic, and all you, my good friends and masters, I invite to come and partake of good cheer with me on the coming Sunday. Then, with blithesome hearts and minds, let us deliberate over a glass of good Hochheimer5 or Johannisberger,6 or any other choice wine in my cellar that your palates may crave, what can be done for the furtherance of our common weal. Once again, I say you shall be all heartily welcome.”

The honest masters’ countenances, which had perceptibly clouded on hearing Master Martin’s proud words, now recovered their serenity, whilst the previous dead silence was followed by the cheerful buzz of conversation, in which a good deal was said about Master Martin’s great deserts, and also about his choice cellar. All promised to be present on the Sunday, and offered their hands to the newly-elected “Candle-master,” who took them and shook them warmly, also drawing a few of the masters a little towards him, as if desirous of embracing them. The company separated in blithe good-humour.

1 Wine was frequently stored at this period on the cooper’s premises in huge casks, and afterwards drawn off in smaller casks and bottled.

2 In many Mediæval German towns the rulers (Burgomaster and Councillors) were mostly self-elected, power being in the hands of a few patrician families. A Councillor generally attended a full meeting of a guild as a sort of “patron” or “visitor.” Compare the position which Sir Patrick Charteris occupied with respect to the good citizens of Perth. (See Sir Walter Scott’s Fair Maid of Perth, chap. vii., et passim .)

3 The well-known Great Cask of Heidelberg, built for the Elector Palatine Ernest Theodore in 1751, is calculated to hold 49,000 gallons, and is 32 feet long and 26 feet in diameter. This is not the only gigantic wine cask that has been made in Germany. Other monsters are now in the cellars at Tübingen (made in 1546), Groningen (1678), Königstein (1725), &c.

4 Hoffmann calls him Tobias also lower down, and then Thomas again.

5 Hochheimer is the name of a Rhine wine that has been celebrated since the beginning of the ninth century, and is grown in the neighbourhood of Hochheim, a town in the district of Wiesbaden.

6 Johannisberger is also grown near Wiesbaden. The celebrated vineyard is said to cover only 39–1/2 acres.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55