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of the man has been more correctly gauged by those who
look upon his favourite kind of controversy as nothing more
than the disfiguring dirt under his feet, or by those others
who trace it back to the very nature of his titanic struggle
with the Church. Bucer, as we just saw, traced Luther's
outbursts to the violence of his temper, and Luther
himself frequently declares that he wrote " so severely,
intentionally and with well-considered courage." 4 This he
looks upon as demanded by his position and, therefore, it

1 Wilhelm Walther, " Fur Luther Wider Rom," 1906, p. 232 ff.
z " Luthers Leben," 1, 1904, Preface, pp. x., xiii.

3 " Deutsche Literaturztng.," 1904, col. 1613.

4 To an anonymous correspondent, August 28, 1522, " Werke,"
Erl. ed., 53, p. 149, answering the question, " Why I replied so harshly
to the King of Engelland." Principal reason : " My method is not
one of compromise, yielding, giving in, or leaving anything undone."
" Do not be astonished that so many are scandalised by my writings.
This is intended to be so and must be so, that even the few may hold
fast to the Gospel." " Brief wechsel," 3, p. 447.


is, as he thinks, " well done." 1 According to Wilhelm
Walther, Luther had chosen the " heroic method of develop-
ment," i.e. " of isolating himself as it were from the whole
world " ; his standpoint was not " within the grasp " of
the world of his opponents. 2 Thus, unless he wished to
forsake his cause, he had to carry it through single-handed,
straining every nerve and having recourse to vituperation
the like of which had never hitherto been heard.

We shall examine elsewhere the psychological questions
involved in this sort of polemics (vol. iv., xxvi. 3). The
above will suffice concerning the influence exercised on his
literary activity by the public position which Luther
had assumed.

4. Further Traits towards a Picture of Luther.
Outward Appearance. Sufferings, Bodily and Mental

A change had gradually taken place in Luther's outward
appearance even previous to his stay at the Wartburg. By
the time he had returned to Wittenberg, his former leanness
had gone and he was inclined to be stout.

Johann Kessler, a Swiss pupil who saw him often in 1522
and who frequently played the lute to cheer him, writes in
his " Sabbata " : " When I knew Martin at the age of forty-
one in 1522 he w r as by nature somewhat portly, of an upright
gait, inclined rather backward than forward, and always
carried his face heavenward." 3

Albert Burer, who was also studying at Wittenberg after
Luther's return from the Wartburg, praises his amiability,
his pleasant, melodious voice, and his winning manner of
speech. 4 Thomas Blaurer, then his enthusiastic disciple,
is also full of praise of his kindly, attractive and sym-

1 Cp. Luther to the Elector Johann, April 16, 1531, " Werke,"
Erl. ed., 54, p. 223 (" Briefwechsel," 8, p. 388), concerning his two
pamphlets, "Warnunge an seine lieben Deudschen," and " Auff das
vermeint keiserlich Edict" : "I am only sorry that [the style] is
not stronger and more violent." The Elector will "readily perceive
that my writing is far, far, too dull and soft towards such dry bones
and dead branches [as the Papists]." But I was "neither drunk nor
asleep when I wrote."

2 " Fur Luther Wider Rom," p. 231.

3 " Sabbata," St. Gallen, 1902, p. 65.

* Letter of Burer, March 27, 1522, in Baum, "Capito und Butzer,"
1860, p. 83, and in " Briefwechsel des Bcatus Rhenanus," ed. Horawitz
and Hartf elder, 1866, p. 303.


pathetic manner towards those who came under his influence
and to whom he ever behaved in a simple and natural
fashion. 1 Neither of them, however, describes his facial

From the likenesses of him to be referred to below it
appears that his face usually wore an expression of energy
and defiance. His chin and mouth protruded slightly and
gave an impression of firmness ; a slight frown denoted
irritability ; over his right eye there was a large wart ; a
lock of curly hair overhung his forehead. His " dark eyes
blinked and twinkled like stars so that it w r as difficult to
look at them fixedly." 2 (J. Kessler.) As remarked above,
his deportment was upright and almost defiant.

Of what Luther must have been, judging by his descriptions,
not one of the portraits which have come down to us gives
any good idea. 3 This sounds strange, as the art of portrait
painting was already very highly developed in Luther's day,
whilst his likenesses were in great demand and were de-
spatched from Wittenberg to every quarter in order to
increase his popularity. Diirer and Holbein, who have left
us characteristic and faithful likenesses of Melanchthon,
never employed their brush or pencil in depicting Luther.
The death-mask which we still have was not taken till four
days after Luther's death from a stroke, i.e. after decomposi-
tion had already made some progress, while the portrait of
the dead man painted in haste by Lucas Fortenagel is almost
terrifying and betrays a very unpractised hand. 4

Lucas Cranach the elder, as is well known, sketched or
painted several likenesses of Luther, and as the two were very
intimate with each other we might have anticipated some-
thing reliable. He w r as, however, not sufficiently true to

1 Thomas Blaurer, in a letter to his brother Ambrose, dated Feb-
ruary 15, 1521, calls Luther " Pater pientissimus " ; previously, on
January 4, he speaks of him as " christianissimus et sapientissimus vir,"
and extols the fact that " omnia contempsit prceter Christum ; prceter
Christum nihil metuit nee sperat et id tamen ita humiliter, ut clare sentiaa
nullos esse hie fucos." " Correspondence of the Brothers Blaurer," 1,
1908, pp. 33, 29 f.

2 Cp. vol. i., p. 279, the " Dicta Melanchthonia " on Luther's eyes.
Catholic contemporaries called them diabolical. See e.g. Aleander in
Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, p. 500.

3 Cp. for what follows H. Bohmer, " Luther im Lichte der neueren
Forschung," 2 , 1910, p. 4 f. Some of the matter contained in the first
edition is omitted in the second.

See Denifle- Weiss, I 2 , PI. IX


life ; he suppressed what he considered to be defects in his
sitter, and, in spite of his artistic talent, he did not possess
the special qualifications for faithfully reproducing in a
portrait the expression of the soul. In his pictures of Luther
we are at a loss to find certain traits mentioned in the
accounts we possess ; the artist introduces into the face an
expression of mildness and tenderness which was foreign to
Luther. Neither is it a fact that we have hundreds of
pictures from his studio, as is so often stated, for of all the
portraits and engravings ascribed to Cranach only five can
be considered as absolutely genuine, the copper plates of
1520 and 1521, 1 then the " Squire George " of the Wartburg
in the Leipzig Town Library, and two portraits in the
Kaufmann Gallery in Berlin. " If we examine the abso-
lutely genuine ' Cranachs ' we at once notice that they
have nothing in common with the typical Luther features
[of a later day]." From these original likenesses down to the
pictures of Luther which circulate to-day there are many
steps. The transformation was carried further and further,
though the " broad, peasant face " and the " powerful jaw "
were destined to remain. Nearly all these pictures represent
an elderly man, inclined to corpulence, with somewhat
blurred features, with surprisingly abundant curly hair
and small, kindly eyes.

This, the typical Luther of to-day, appears perhaps for
the first time in the so-called " Epitaphium Lutheri," a wood-
cut which was made after Luther's death by the elder
Cranach's son, Lucas Cranach the younger. The type
in question became very generally known owing to the
picture of Luther painted nine years after his death by the
younger Cranach for an altar-piece in the parish church at
Weimar, although in this likeness, which has been so
frequently copied, there may still be found some traces of
the bold, warrior features of the real Luther. Bohmer, the
Protestant historian, remarks : " In the most popular of
these modern ' ideal pictures,' viz. the oleograph of Luther
in the fur cappa which ' adorns ' so many churches, even
the Doctor's own Catherine would be unable to recognise
her Martin."

The pictured Luther has become almost a fable among
Protestants. This may well make us suspicious of the pen-
1 The latter are shown in Bohmer, p. 2. Cp. ibid., p. 37.


picture of him now spread abroad by so many of his followers
and admirers. Is it in the least trustworthy ? Here again
it is the Protestant authority cited above who complains :
" The literary Luther-portraits, though strikingly similar,
are all more or less unlike the original. In the strict sense
they are not portraits at all, but presentments of a type."

The strain of such strenuous literary work, in the case of
one whose public life was so full of commotion as Luther's,
could not fail to tax the most healthy nervous system. We
can only wonder how he contrived to cope with the excite-
ment and incessant labour of the years from 1520 to 1525
and to continue tirelessly at the task till his life's end.

Amongst his works in those years were various contro-
versial writings printed in 1523, for instance, that against
Cochlaeus ; also tracts such as those " On the Secular
Power " and " On the Adoration of the Sacrament " ;
also the Instructions on the Supper, on Baptism and
on the Liturgy, etc., and, besides these, voluminous
circular-letters, translations from, and extensive com-
mentaries on, the Bible. There was also a vast multitude of
sermons and private letters. Among the writings on widely
differing subjects dealt with by Luther in 1524-25 the
following may be specified : " On Christian Schools," " Two
Unequal Commands of the Emperor," " On Trade and
Usury," " On the Abomination of silent Mass," " Against the
Heavenly Prophets," " Against the Murderous Peasants,"
" On the Unfreedom of the Will." His publications
in the three years 1523-25 number no less than seventy-
nine. His attacks on the vow of chastity, and on celibacy,
constitute a striking feature of many of his then writings.
Obstinacy in the pursuit of one idea, which characterises
the German, degenerates in Luther's case into a sort of
monomania, which would have made his writings unread-
able, or at least tedious, had not the author's literary gifts
and unfortunately the prurient character of the subject-
matter appealed to many. The haste in which all this was
produced has left its mark everywhere. 1

1 None but an expert can have any idea of the " speed with which
Luther wrote. He was a born stenographer." It should be noted
" that the haste with which he wrote is far less noticeable in the manu-
scripts which have been preserved than in the writings themselves
with their countless defects. Outside a small circle there are but few


In those years Luther's nerves frequently avenged them-
selves by headaches and attacks of giddiness for the un-
limited demands made upon them. Irregular meals and the
want of proper attention to the body in the desolate " black
monastery " of Wittenberg also contributed their quota.
Among the bodily disorders which often troubled him we
find him complaining of a disagreeable singing in the cars ;
then it was that he began to suffer from calculus, a malady
which caused him great pains in later years and of which we
first hear in 1526. We reserve, however, our treatment of
Luther's various ailments till we come to describe the close
of his life. (See vol. v., xxxv. 1.)

We cannot, however, avoid dealing here with a matter
connected with his pathology, which has frequently been
discussed in recent times. The delicate question of his
having suffered from syphilis was first broached by the
Protestant physician, Friedrich Kuchenmeister, in 1881, and
another Protestant, the theologian and historian Theodore
Kolde, has brought it into more prominent notice by the
production of a new document, which in 1904 was un-
fortunately submitted to noisy discussion by polemical
writers and apologists in the public press.

Kuchenmeister wrote : " As a student Luther was on the
whole healthy. From syphilis, the scourge of the students and
knights at that time (we have only to think of Ulrich von Hutten),
he never suffered, 'I preserved,' he says, 'my chastity.' " J

The inference is, however, not conclusive, since syphilis is now
looked upon as an illness which can be contracted not merely by
sexual intercourse, but also in other ways. There was therefore
no real reason to introduce the question of chastity, which the
physician here raises.

As regards, however, the question of infection, every unbiassed
historian will make full allowance for the state of that age.

to-day who could fall under the magical influence of Luther's writings,
and not weary of listening to the monotonous song of the ' Witten-
berg nightingale ' " (K. A. Meissinger, in a review of Ficker's edition
of the Commentary on Romans, "Frankfurter Ztng.," 1910, No. 300).
The expression " Wittenberg nightingale " occurs, as is well known,
in a poem by Luther's Nuremberg admirer, Hans Sachs.

1 " Luthers Krankengesch.," 1881, p. 122. " Commentar ad Gal.,"
1531, 1, p. 107. In this passage quoted by Denifle, I 2 , p. 391,
Luther speaks of his great zeal in doing penance in the monastery, and
adds a little further on (p. 109) : " So long as I was a Popish monk,
externe non eram sicut ceteri homines, raptores, iniusti, adulteri, sed
servabam castitatem, obedientiam et paupertatem," which, of course,
only means : "I was a good religious."


Owing to the great corruption of morals which prevailed, syphilis,
or the " French sickness, malum Francice," as it was called,
raged everywhere, but especially in France and Italy. The
danger of infection was, as Luther himself points out, extremely
great, so that, as he says, even " boys in the cradle are plagued
with this disease." So prevalent was this formerly unknown
malady that " friends wished it to each other in jest." 1 He sees
in the spread of the " scabies gallica " a manifest Divine judg-
ment for the growing lack of the fear of God, and looks upon it
as a sign of the approaching end of the world. 2 In his " Chronicle "
he says that, in 1490, a new illness, the French sickness, made its
appearance, " one of the great signs of the coming of the Last
Day." 3

The new material furnished by Theodore Kolde in his
" Analecta Lutherana " consists of a medical letter of
Wolfgang Rychardus to Johann Magenbuch dated June 11,
1523, taken from the Hamburg Town Library, and is of a
character to make one wonder whether Luther did not at
one period suffer from syphilis, at any rate in a mild form. 4

The circumstances of the letter are as follows : Luther was
recovering from a serious attack of illness which he himself
believed to be due to a bath. 6 We learn from Melanchthon that
this indisposition was accompanied by high fever. 6 On May 24,
however, the patient was able to report that he was better, but
that he "was over-burdened with distracting labours." 7 At
that time a certain Apriolus, a renegade Franciscan and zealous
disciple of Luther's (his real name was Johann Eberlin), was
staying with Luther at Wittenberg. He forwarded detailed
accounts of Luther's illness to a physician with whom he was
intimate, Wolfgang Rychardus, at Ulm. Rychardus was also a
great admirer of the Wittenberg professor and at the same time,
as it would appear, a devoted friend of Melanchthon's. In conse-
quence of Apriolus's reports he wrote the medical letter now in

1 Cordatus, " Tagebuch," p. 38.

2 In the interpretation pf Genesis iii. 17 ; " Opp. Lat. exeg.," 1,
p. 263. Cp. Cordatus, " Tagebuch," p. 38, 481, where Luther makes
use of the usual word " Franzos " for the malady. In the latter
passage Luther declares himself ready to exchange his very painful
gout for this malady, or even for the plague, were that God's will.
Hence he was then, i.e. in his later years, free from it.

3 German translation of the " Chronicle " in " Werke," ed. Walch,
14 ; the passage, ibid., p. 1277.

4 " Analecta Lutherana," p. 50.

5 To Spalatin, April 25, 1523, " Briefwechsel," 4, p. 137.

6 Melanchthon to Hammelberg, April 29, 1523, " Corp. ref.," 1,
p. 615.

7 To Nic. Hausmann, " Briefwechsel," 4, p. 144 : " Corpore satis
bene valeo."


question to another physician then studying at Wittenberg,
Johann Magenbuch of Blaubeuren, who also was intimate with
the Wittenberg Reformers, had helped Melanchthon in his Greek
lexicon with regard to the medical side, and was then in attend-
ance on Luther. It was Magenbuch who had first brought
Rychardus into touch with Luther, and both had already ex-
changed letters concerning him. 1 Rychardus remained Luther's
friend at a later date. 2

Rychardus wrote to the physician attending Luther, that he
had heard of the illness of the new " Elias " (Luther), but now
rejoices to learn he is convalescent. It was evident that God was
preserving him. In the meantime, out of pity [in a letter not
extant], Apriolus had given him various particulars concerning
Luther's illness and his sleeplessness. He points out that it was
not sufficient that Luther should only enjoy some sleep every
second night, though, of course, his mental exertion explained
his sleeplessness, hence, as a careful physician, he recommends
his friend Magenbuch to give the patient a certain sleeping-
draught, which he also describes, and with which Magenbuch
(" qui medicum agis ") must already be acquainted. " But if,'
he says, " the pains of the French sickness disturb his sleep "
these must be alleviated by means of a certain plaster, the
mysterious components of which, comprising wine, quicksilver
(" vinum sublimatum "), and other ingredients he fully describes ;
this would induce sleep which was absolutely essential for the
restoration of health. " For God's sake take good care of Luther,"
he concludes, and adds greetings to Apriolus his informant. 3

Divergent interpretations have naturally been placed upon
this letter by Luther's friends and enemies. It might have

1 See Endcrs in " Luthers Brief wechsel," 4, pp. 87, 88 n.

2 Luther sent him a copy of his " Chronicle," above mentioned, as
a present on May 15, 1544 (Sciclemann, " Lutherbriefe," p. 68).

3 The text in question runs as follows : " De Hclia Luthero vulgata
eat apud (nos) creberrima Jama morbo laborare hominem. Giengerius
tamen ex Lipsiis rediens nundinis refert foelicitcr, convaluisse scilicet
Heliam. qui nos omnes mira affecit Icclitia. Clamabant adversarii pseu-
doregem interiisse de Sickingero gloriantes, pseudopapam autem ceyrotum
propcdiem obiturum. Deus tamen, cuius res agitur, melius consuluit.
Apriolus tamen multa mihi ex compassione de Lulheri nostri mala vale-
tudine adscripsit, et inter reliqua de nimia vigilia, qua dominus Helias
molestetur. Non est mirum, hominem tot cerebri laboribus immersum, in
siccitatem cerebri incidere, unde nimia causatur vigilia. Tu autem, qui
medicum agis, non debes esse oblitus, si lac mulieris mixtum cum oleo
violalo in commissuram coronalem ungatur, quam familiariter humectet
cerebrum ad somnumque disponat ; et si cum hoc dolores MALI FRANCIE
aomno impedimento fuerint, mitigandi sunt cum emplastro, quod fit ex
medulla cervi, in qua coquuntur vermes terra? cum modico croco et vino
sublimato, Hec si dormituro apponuntur, somnum conciliant, qui somnus
maxime est necessarius ad rcstaurandam sanitatem. Nam quod caret
alterna requie durabile non est. Cura nobis Lutherum propter Deum,
cuius fidei me commenda et charitati. Melanchthonis (?) notum fac
Apriolumque saluta." (From the " Cod. Rych." in the Wolff collec-
tion of the Hamburg Town Library, p. 560.)


sufficed to detail the circumstances and the contents of the letter,
did not the somewhat violent objections raised against the view,
that, owing to the information given him by Apriolus, Rychardus
took Luther to be suffering from the French sickness, render
some further remarks necessary.

It has been said that Luther was not ill at all at the time
Rychardus wrote, but had recovered his health long before. It is
true that in June, 1523, his life was no longer in danger, since
Rychardus had heard from Giengerius, who came from the fair at
Leipzig, that Elias had recovered ( " convaluisse Helium"}; but
then his friend Apriolus forwarded the above disquieting accounts
(" multa de valetudine adscripsit ") which led Rychardus to write
his letter, which in turn is an echo of his informant's letter. The
circumstance that Luther was on the whole much better is there-
fore, as a matter of fact, of no importance. It has also been said
that " Rychardus can be understood as speaking in general
terms without any reference to Luther." According to this view
of the matter the physician's meaning would amount to this :
" Luther must be made to sleep by means of the remedy well
known to you [and which he describes], but if along with it (' cum
hoc ') the pains of the French sickness should disturb anyone's
sleep, they must be allayed by a plaster," etc. It is surely all
too evident that such an explanation is untenable.

Again, the word " if " has been emphasised ; Rychardus does
not say that Luther has syphilis, but that if he has it. But, as a
matter of fact, he does not write "if he be suffering from it," but,
" if this malady disturbs his sleep " ; taken in connection with the
account of the illness, supplied by Apriolus, the most natural
(we do not, however, say necessary) interpretation to be placed
on his words is that he was aware the patient was suffering from
this malady, perhaps only slightly, yet sufficiently to endanger
his sleep. " But if, when use is made of the sleeping-draught
indicated, syphilis should prevent his sleeping," is surely a
proviso which no physician would make in the case of a patient
in whom syphilitic symptoms were not actually present ;
Rychardus would never have spoken of the " new Elias " in this
way unless he had reason to believe in the existence of the malady.
It would have been far-fetched to introduce the subject of so dis-
gusting a complaint, and much more natural to speak of other
commoner causes which might disturb sleep.

It must, however, be allowed, that, both before and after this
letter was written, no trace of such an illness occurs in any of the
documents concerning Luther. The " molestice " twice mentioned
previously, which by some have been taken to refer to this
malady, have, as a matter of fact, an altogether different mean-
ing, which is clear from the context. 1

1 In a letter to Staupitz, February 20, 1519, " Briefwechsel," 1,
p. 431, Luther complains of " molestice," which were not physical
sufferings but the weight of his position and undertaking. In the letter
to Melanchthon, July 13, 1519, "Briefwechsel," 3, p. 189, he means
by the " other molestia " which tormented him, the constipation which


In addition to his bodily ailments, the result more
particularly of extreme nervous agitation, the indefatigable
worker was over and again tormented with severe attacks of
depression and sadness.

They were in part due to the sad experiences with his
followers and to the estrangement now becoming more
and more pronounced of his party from the fanatical
Anabaptists ; in part also to the alarming reports of the
seditious risings of the peasants ; also to his deception
concerning the Papacy, which, far from falling to pieces
"at the breath of the true Gospel," had asserted its
authority and even strengthened it by reforms such as those
commenced under Hadrian VI. It was, however, principally
his " interior struggles," and the pressing reproaches of his
conscience concerning his work as a whole, Avhich rendered
him a prey to melancholy. This mental agony never ceased ;
the inward voice he had heard in the Wartburg, and which
had pierced his very soul with the keenness of a sword,
continued to oppress him : " Are you alone wise ? Supposing
that all those who follow you are merely dupes." 1

If he sought for distraction in cheerful conversation, this
was merely to react against such gloomy thoughts. The
more and more worldly life he began to lead may also be
regarded as due in some measure to the effort on his part to
escape these moods. We may also find in them the psycho-
logical explanation of the excesses he commits in his

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