Collection Scope and Content Summary
Title: German celebratory verse (Gelegenheitsdichtung) : collection,
Date (inclusive): 1550-1750
Collection number: M1027
.75 linear ft. (140 pieces)
Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.
Abstract: These poems celebrate marriages, funerals, births, farewells, New Years, inaugurations and installations, and fests and feasts.
The collection concentrates on Lower Saxony in the era of George I, elector of Hanover and King of England. An indication
of the many-layered culture of this society is the welter of languages used in these tracts. There are verses in French, Italian,
Greek, Hebrew, Dutch, and Niederdeutsch, in addition to Latin and German. The French verses date from the reign of George
I, who was inclined to imitate the court of Louis XIV. One of the Niederdeutsch poems is a burlesque on a betrothal, indicating
that the Low German dialect was considered appropriate for joking and ribald humor. Many typefaces were used; many of the
works were printed on the first presses of a particular city. At Lüneburg there was no press before 1616; this town is represented
by five manuscripts.
There are no restrictions on access.
Property rights reside with the repository. Literary rights
reside with the creators of the documents or their heirs. To
obtain permission to publish or reproduce, please contact the
Public Services Librarian of the Dept. of Special Collections.
German celebratory verse (Gelegenheitsdichtung) : collection. M1027. Dept. of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries,
Purchased from Bennett Gilbert, 1989.
Purchased from Bennett Gilbert, 1989.
Collection Scope and Content Summary
This collection of German celebratory verse (Gelegenheitsdichtung) comprises 140 pieces, every one of very great rarity. Their
rarity symbolizes the fragmented and disparate state of German literature between the end of the Renaissance, about 1550 in
Germany, and the beginning of the creation of a national literature, after 1750. Between these two impulses German literature
developed in uncommon genres that were deeply fertile in succeeding ages. Celebratory verse is one of these.
The initial impulse of German humanism was expressed in the circle of neo-Latin writers centered in Nuremberg and in the universities
of Tubingen and Erfurt. Speaking broadly, we may say that this energy was largely absorbed by the Reformation and diverted
from literature to religion. With the exception of Frischlin and a few other dramatists, only philologists at work on Greek
grammars and concordances represented the humane letters in the last half of the century.
After about 1750, German literature began its greatest period. The French influence, the growing prosperity of the large towns,
and Germany's indigenous traditions prepared the way on which Goethe above all and many others created Germany's national
literature for the first time in a European context.
In between these two eras lay a different and yet classic Germany.
It was a land of over 300 separate territories, each identifying with its own, separate, intimately held, and jealously defended
privileges, customs, rights, and laws. Time honored each of these communities by long and rich traditions, whether ruled by
archbishop, count, prince or king, or a free town or imperial city. The institution of the Empire had really ceased to matter
from about 1600: every effort of the Emperor displayed his weakness, and the Diet was an assembly of ambassadors who never
debated and mostly waited for instructions from their sovereigns. It was a poor country, struggling for nearly a century to
overcome the devastation of the Thirty Years War.
In this environment, literature in Germany lacked a national style and national subjects, just as Germany itself had no capital
and no uniform system of weights and measures. Thus the development of a national literature has been called "the almost miraculous
creation of a soul without a body". This marvellous effort was sustained in isolation and poverty in the period from 1550
to 1750 through several literary and channels, gathering strength in circumstances free of a dominant "taste: and of critical
One of the most important of these was the genre of celebratory verse. In it, as in the picaresque novel, or the brilliant
Baroque poetry of the seventeenth century, one finds the complex and flavorful life of the Germans. These poems celebrate
marriages, funerals, births, farewells, New Years, inaugurations and installations, and fests and feasts. Thus each poem is
a memento for us of a circumstance or an event that is rich in color, full of aspirations and struggles. The verse leaflets
in this collection show a full range of the religious, political, and social textures of the times and are, in spite of their
ephemerality, indispensable documents of this history.
This collection concentrates on Lower Saxony in the era of George I, elector of Hanover and King of England. The deep observation
of this place and time made possible by this collections shows the strength and weakness of German society and literature
in this period:long blood ties and intimate geographical relationships that bound the communities and the region strongly
together and at the same time fostered a provincial rather than a national loyalty.
Saxony mirrored the political complexity of Germany. For centuries, including and especially the seventeenth century, there
was a dizzying barter exchange of these communities from one princely hand to another. Ulneberg, an important town in the
1500's, was, with Celle, perhaps the most frequently traded. Similarly, the towns of the area of Braunschweig represent the
most culturally rich and produàtive area of Germany in the late seventeenth century. Thus the collection exactly centers on
the most interesting example of a typical state.
An indication of the many-layered culture of this society is the welter of languages used in these tracts. There are verses
in French, Italian, Greek, Hebrew, Dutch, and Niederdeutsch, in addition to Latin and German. The French verses date from
the reign of George I, who was inclined to imitate the court of Louis XIV. One of the Niederdeutsch poems is a burlesque on
a betrothal, indicated that the Low German dialect was considered appropriate for joking and ribald humor.
The use of these languages gave rise to the use of many typefaces. The collections includes works from the first press at
Helmstedt with specimens of its Greek typeface; later, a considerable amount of classical philology was printed there. At
Luneburg there was no press before 1616, so that this town is represented by five sixteenth-century manuscripts of celebratory
verse. Many of the works printed by the first presses in Uelzen, Helmstedt, Wittenberg, and Hannover concern Lilneberg families,
who went to these neighbouring towns for what their own city could not supply.
It is that kind of story which makes this collection a singular resource. By concentrating on Lower Saxony, a culturally and
historically rich part of Germany that suffered more than anywhere else in the Thirty Years War, it makes it possible to learn
many stories of the lives of its people. The relationships of families, attitudes toward events, the whole structure of friendship
and association are,
from a sociological point of view, revealed in these verses. They show in an unguarded moment the power structure of the day.
This period also saw the final separation of Hanoverian territory from Saxony, so that we are able to glimpse the royal court
at Hannover at a great period in its history, c. 1680-1730. Leibniz was the greatest figure here, and some of the verses celebrate
his friends and associates, such as Gerhardt Molanus and Rudolf Wagner. Some had relied on Leibniz for academic promotions
or corresponded for him on philosophical matters. One pamphlet concerns Nicolaus Förster, the court book dealer; another,
Hermann von der Hardt, librarian to Rudolf August von Braunschweig.
Because of the rarity of such leaflets and broadsides as these, they remain a relatively new source for the study of life
and literature. Like the old town statute books re-discovered by the recent French historians, these gently uncover the intimate
life of places long ago and far away, revealing to us the reality of that life.
It is in this connection that we return to the literary importance of celebratory verse. This genre was a format in which
ordinary people could write creatively for everyday use. These are precisely the opposite of literature for literature's sake:
they are practical literature, for people celebrating and ornamenting the great events of ordinary life. The pace of life
in Germany was slow, and literary composition was very individualistic, even eccentric. For this reason we find acrostics,
chronograms, anagrams, and puns throughout these texts. Thus celebratory verse was the acceptable, available, and inevitable
channel in which German literature flowed during these difficult centuries.
Because of this the genre will play an important role in the expanding study of Baroque German rhetoric and critical theory.
It was a part of contemporary discourse in which almost anyone could practise his compositional skills. Works such as W. Barner's
important Barok Rhetorik have already begun to take it into account. Rudolf Lenz has devoted a great deal of attention to
German funeral orations, resulting in catalogues of the collections in Marburg and Giessen.
It is thus of great importance to assemble and to hold catalogued collections. Within Germany, many of these texts are unknown:
of the ill imprints from Lower Saxony, only 15 are to be found in the most comprehensive bibliography. Leibniz is the most
intensively studied figure of the period, and yet the poem he wrote for his ailing patron is unrecorded in this form, its
first appearance in print. None of the sixteenth century imprints is in the British Library; very few, if any, of the 140
titles are in the National Union Catalogue.
The many social and literary implications of these texts are an instance of one of the very good reasons for collecting early
printed matter: the power of that body of material to inform us not only about the creative geniuses, the text of whose works
is safe, but the other 99%, the real stuff of history. The developments essential to the explosive growth of German literature
after 1750 are found in the celebratory verse and other genres of the preceding period, which came not fronm literary theory
but from the heart. They thus define for us the context in which the German faced the cosmpolitan influences of.the Enlightenment.
They are evidence of the fertility of German culture in this stressful and difficult period, showing how literature survived
on the strength of the culture, the close-knit and communal character of German life. It is these details and glories of a
consequential period of German literary and social history that poetry of this genre recalls for us, setting the stage for
the great poetry of Germany's neoclassical and romantic periods.
The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.
German literature--Early modern, 1500-1700.
German poetry--Early modern, 1500-1700.
Germany--Religious life and customs--Modern period, 1517-