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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

He always remembered that he was a Franconian noble


He was the eldest son, but his

frail body and sickly disposition marked him out in his father's eyes for a clerical life. He was sent at the age of eleven to the ancient monastery of Fulda, where his precocity in all kinds of intellectual work seemed to presage a distinguished position if he remained true to the calling to which his father had destined him. The boy, however, soon found that he had no vocation for the Church, and that, while he was keenly interested in all manner of studies, he detested the scholastic theology. He appealed to his father, told him how he hated the thought of a clerical life, and asked him to be permitted to look forward to the career of a scholar and a man of letters. The old Franconian knight was as hard as men of his class usually were. He promised Ulrich that he could take as much time as he liked to educate himself, but that in the end he was to enter the Church. Upon this, Ulrich, an obstinate chip of an obstinate block, determined to make his escape from the monastery and follow his own life. How he managed it is unknown. He fell in with John Jaeger of Dornheim, and the two wandered, German student fashion, from University to University; they were at Koeln together, then at Erfurt. The elder Hutten refused to assist his son in any way. How the young student maintained himself no one knows. He had wretched health; he was at least twice robbed and half-murdered by ruffians as he tramped along the unsafe highways; but his indomitable purpose to live the life of a literary
man or to die sustained him. At last family friends patched up a half-hearted reconciliation between father and son. They pointed out that the young man's abilities might find scope in a diplomatic career since the Church was so distasteful to him, and the father was induced to permit him to go to Italy, provided he applied himself to the study of law. Ulrich went gladly to the land of the New Learning, reached Pavia, struggled on to Bologna, found that he liked law no better than theology, and began to write. It is needless to follow his erratic career. He succeeded frequently in getting patrons; but he was not the man to live comfortably in dependence; he always remembered that he was a Franconian noble; he had an irritable temper,--his wretched health furnishing a very adequate excuse.

It is probable that his sojourn in Italy did as much for him as for Luther, though in a different way. The Reformer turned with loathing from Italian, and especially from Roman wickedness. The Humanist meditated on the greatness of the imperial idea, now, he thought, the birthright of his Germany, which was being robbed of it by the Papacy. Henceforward he was dominated by one persistent thought.

He was a Humanist and a poet, but a man apart, marked out from among his fellows, destined to live in the memories of his nation when their names had been forgotten. They might be better scholars, able to write a finer Latinity, and pen trifles more elegantly; but he was a man with a purpose. His erratic and by no means pure life was ennobled by his sincere, if limited and unpractical, patriotism. He wrought, schemed, fought, flattered, and apostrophised to create a united Germany under a reformed Emperor. Whatever hindered this was to be attacked with what weapons of sarcasm, invective, and scorn were at his command; and the _one_ enemy was the Papacy of the close of the fifteenth century, and all that it implied. It was the Papacy that drained Germany of gold, that kept the Emperor in thraldom, that set one portion of the land against the other, that gave the separatist designs of the princes their promise of success. The Papacy was his Carthage, which must be destroyed.


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