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A History of Germany by Bayard Taylor

And by the end of the year 1525


The

excitement, however, was too great to be subdued by admonitions of patience and forbearance. A dreadful war broke out in 1525: the army of 30,000 peasants ravaged a great part of Southern Germany, destroying castles and convents, and venting their rage in the most shocking barbarities, which were afterwards inflicted upon themselves, when they were finally defeated by the Count of Waldburg. The movement extended through Middle Germany even to Westphalia, and threatened to become general: some parts of Thuringia were held for a short time by the peasants, and suffered terrible ravages. Another army of 8,000, headed by Thomas Muenzer, was cut to pieces near Muehlhausen, in Saxony, and by the end of the year 1525, the rebellion was completely suppressed. In this short time, some of the most interesting monuments of the Middle Ages, among them the grand castle of the Hohenstaufens, in Suabia, had been levelled to the earth; whole provinces were laid waste; tens of thousands of men, women and children were put to the sword, and a serious check was given to the progress of the Reformation, through all Southern Germany.

[Sidenote: 1525.]

The stand which Luther had taken against the rebellion preserved the friendship of those princes who were well-disposed towards him, but he took no part in the measures of defence against the Imperial and Papal power, which they were soon compelled to adopt. He devoted himself to the

completion of his translation of the Bible, in which he was faithfully assisted by Melanchthon and others. In this great work he accomplished even more than a service to Christianity; he created the modern German language. Before his time, there had been no tongue which was known and accepted throughout the whole Empire. The poets and minstrels of the Middle Ages wrote in Suabian; other popular works were in low-Saxon, Franconian or Alsatian. The dialect of Holland and Flanders had so changed that it was hardly understood in Germany; that of Brandenburg and the Baltic provinces had no literature as yet, and the learned or scientific works of the time were written in Latin.

No one before Luther saw that the simplest and most expressive qualities of the German language must be sought for in the mouths of the people. With all his scholarship, he never used the theological style of writing, but endeavored to express himself so that he could be clearly understood by all men. In translating the Old Testament, he took extraordinary pains to find words and phrases as simple and strong as those of the Hebrew writers. He frequented the market-place, the merry-making, the house of birth, marriage or death, to learn how the common people expressed themselves in all the circumstances of life. He enlisted his friends in the same service, begging them to note down for him any peculiar, characteristic phrase; "for," said he, "I cannot use the words heard in castles and courts." Not a sentence of the Bible was translated until he had found the best and clearest German expression for it. He wrote, in 1530: "I have exerted myself, in translating, to give pure and clear German. And it has verily happened, that we have sought and questioned a fortnight, three, four weeks, for a single word, and yet it was not always found. In Job, we so labored, Philip Melanchthon, Aurogallus and I, that in four days we sometimes barely finished three lines."


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