Hans Sachs was born six years before the end of the fifteenth century and lived until 1576. Sachs, the son of a tailor, began his schooling at the age of seven at one of the four Latin schools of Nuremberg. His teacher, Herr Friedel, taught him grammar, rhetoric, singing, and, later, some Latin. For eight years he remained in this school; this was the only formal schooling he ever received. At the age of seventeen, he embarked on his Wanderjahre. From Regensburg, where he first stopped and remained for two months, he went to Passau, and from there down the Inn River, via Braunau, Ried, and Wells, to Salzburg. Everywhere he interested himself not only in his training as a cobbler, but also in the life of the many people with whom he came in contact. During these formative years, his interest in literature, as well as people, grew rapidly. His earliest dated and preserved literary attempt was written in 1513. This was a Buhlscheidlied (love poem), in which he describes the pangs of separation from a beloved.
About this same time, he obtained a copy of the Augsburg edition of Heinrich Steinhöwels’s translation of some of the stories in Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron: O, Prencipe Galetto, (1349-1351; The Decameron, 1620). In 1514, Sachs continued his travels to Munich, then to Würzburg, Frankfurt am Main, Koblenz, Cologne, and to Leipzig, when, after a total of five years’ absence, he returned to his native Nuremberg in 1516. He settled down to his lifework, shoemaking and writing—or rather writing and shoemaking, for undoubtedly writing was always foremost in his mind. On September 1, 1519, he married Kunigunde Kreuzer; of this marriage, seven children, two sons and five daughters, were born.
It was during these years that Martin Luther became the center and the cause of a violent religious upheaval in Germany. Luther’s principal contention was that people are justified by faith alone and not by works. On the basis of this idea of a personal faith, he favored the abolition of many church rituals and challenged the supreme authority of the pope. Luther was excommunicated in 1521 and appeared before the Diet of Worms in that year, taking a firm stand on his views, and was subsequently put under the ban of the Holy Roman Empire.
Sachs for his part must have studied Luther’s new doctrine and accepted its precepts, because he became an ardent disciple of the Augustinian reformer. Sachs wrote vigorously and profusely on the subject of religious reform, and it was through his writings that many people in Nuremberg were influenced to adopt the tenets of the Reformation.
The writings that Sachs produced from his youth to his middle age breathe a spirit of kindly humor, tranquillity, and contentment that betokens a happy life. In his fifties, however, he faced heavy trials: He lost his seven children and, in 1560, his wife. It was in this year that Nuremberg was decimated by an epidemic that swept away more than ten thousand people. One year and five months after the death of Kunigunde, Sachs took a second wife, a young girl by the name of Barbara Harscherin. Despite his advanced years (he was sixty-eight) and the wide disparity in their ages (Barbara was twenty-seven), this marriage, too, seems to have been happy.
There is something to be said for the age as well as for the man who, as a cobbler, could become a humanist, a poet, a musician, acquire a good library, learn Greek literature and philosophy, write four...
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