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

Well may your heart swell in presentient sadness, indulgent reader, when your footsteps wander through places where the splendid monuments of Old German Art speak, like eloquent tongues, of the magnificence, good steady industry, and sterling honesty of an illustrious age now long since passed away. Do you not feel as if you were entering a deserted house? The Holy Book in which the head of the household read is still lying open on the table, and the gay rich tapestry that the mistress of the house spun with her own hands is still hanging on the walls; whilst round about in the bright clean cupboards are ranged all kinds of valuable works of art, gifts received on festive occasions. You could almost believe a member of the household will soon enter and receive you with genuine hearty hospitality. But you will wait in vain for those whom the eternally revolving wheel of Time has whirled away; you may therefore surrender yourself to the sweet dream in which the old Masters rise up before you and speak honest and weighty words that sink deeply into your heart Then for the first time will you be able to grasp the profound significance of their works, for you will then not only live in, but you will also understand the age which could produce such masters and such works. But, alas! does it not happen that, as you stretch out your loving arms to clasp the beautiful image of your dream, it shyly flees away on the light morning clouds before the noisy bustle of the day, whilst you, your eyes filling with scalding tears, gaze after the bright vision as it gradually disappears? And so, rudely disturbed by the life that is pulsing about you, you are suddenly wakened out of your pleasant dream, retaining only the passionate longing that thrills your breast with its delicious awe.

Such sentiments as these, indulgent reader, have always animated the breast of him who is about to pen these pages for you, whenever his path has led him through the world-renowned city of Nuremberg. Now lingering before that wonderful structure, the fountain1 in the market-place, now contemplating St. Sebald’s shrine,2 and the ciborium3 in St. Lawrence’s Church, and Albert Dürer’s4 grand pictures in the castle and in the town-house, he used to give himself up entirely to the delicious reveries which transported him into the midst of all the glorious splendours of the old Imperial Town. He thought of the true-hearted words of Father Rosenblüth5 —

O Nuremberg, thou glorious spot,

Thy honour’s bolt was aimed aright,

Sticks in the mark whereat wisdom shot;

And truth in thee hath come to light.

Many a picture of the life of the worthy citizens of that period, when art and manual industry went loyally and industriously hand in hand, rose up brightly before his mind’s eye, impressing itself upon his soul in especially cheerful and pleasing colours. Graciously be pleased, therefore, that he put one of these pictures before you. Perhaps, as you gaze upon it, it may afford you gratification, perhaps it may draw from you a good-natured smile, perhaps you may even come to feel yourself at home in Master Martin’s house, and may linger willingly amongst his casks and tubs. Well! — Then the writer of these pages will have effected what is the sincere and honest wish of his heart.

1 The “Beautiful Fountain,” as it is called, is about 64 ft. in height, and consists of three stone Gothic pyramids and many statues (electors and heroes and prophets). It was built by Schonhover in 1355–61, and restored in 1820.

2 St. Sebald’s shrine in St. Sebald’s Church consists of a bronze sarcophagus and canopy of rich Gothic style. It stands about 16–1/2 ft. high, and bears admirable statues of the Twelve Apostles, certain church-fathers and prophets, and other representations of a semi-mythological character, together with reliefs illustrative of episodes in the saint’s life. It is regarded by many as one of the gems of German artistic work, and is the result of thirteen years’ labour (1506–1519) by Peter Vischer and his sons.

3 This ciborium or receptacle for the host is the work of Adam Krafft, stands about 68 feet in height, and represents Christ’s Passion. The style is florid Gothic, and the material stone.

4 Albrecht Dürer, born at Nuremberg in 1471, and died in 1528, contemporary with Titian and Raphael, the most truly representative German painter as well as, perhaps, the greatest.

5 Hans Rosenblüth, Meistersinger and Wappendichter (Mastersinger and Herald-poet), called the Schnepperer (babbler), was a native of Nuremberg. Between 1431 and 1460 is the period of his literary activity, when he wrote Fastnachtspiele (developments of the comic elements in Mysteries), “Odes” on Wine, Farces, &c. He marks the transition from the poetry of chivalric life and manners to that of burgher life and manners.

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