Home  »  The World’s Wit and Humor  »  Origin and Rearing of Simplicius

The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Hans Jakob Christoph von Grimmelshausen (1625–1676)

Origin and Rearing of Simplicius

From “Simplicius Simplicissimus”

IN the present days, which many people believe to be the last, there is to be observed among common people a disease which manifests itself in the following manner: When the patients who suffer from it have scraped together or stolen enough for a dress in the newest fashion, tricked out with ribbons and spangles, straightway they would be thought noble and knightly persons of most ancient race; whereas, on the contrary, their forebears were usually day-laborers, hewers of wood and drawers of water, their present kinsmen are drivers of asses, their brothers executioners, their sisters and mothers witches of ill repute, and all their two-and-thirty ancestors equally filthy and degraded, even as the pots of the sugar-makers at Prague. Thus are these new noblemen ofttimes as black as though they had been born and bred in Guinea.

I would not be thought to be the like of such fools, although, truth to say, I have often enough imagined that I must be descended from some great lord, or, at least, some nobleman of meaner order, for I have ever felt a great liking, from my very nature, for the employments of noble youth, had I but had the wherewithal to get me the necessary accouterments. Yet, jest aside, my origin and breeding may not unfitly be compared to that of some lordly person, if one be but willing to pass over the difference. How? My father had a palace of his own, and a palace of such a kind as no king with his own hands could build, or would, in all eternity. This palace was painted with clay, and, instead of barren slate, cold lead, or red copper, it was roofed with straw; and, in order that the nobility and wealth of my father be rightly apparent and visibly splendid, he did not have the wall about his castle built of stones, that are found by the wayside or dug from the waste places of the earth, far less with hastily baked bricks, that are heated and made complete in a brief space. Thus might others do; but he used for this purpose wood of the oak-tree, which noble and useful tree (upon the which grow sausages and fat hams) needs a hundred years to arrive at its full age. Where is the monarch who has equaled my father in this? His halls of state, rooms, and various chambers he caused to be blackened by smoke, for this reason, namely, that this color is the most durable in the world, and takes a longer time to come to its full perfection than any pigment a painter could apply, or unite in his most remarkable masterpieces. The tapestries were of the most delicate sort, if not of the rarest, for they were supplied by that wise animal, the spider, which aforetime dared even to spin her loom in opposition to the goddess Minerva. He dedicated his windows to Saint Not-Glass, not because he had not glass, but merely because he knew that a window-pane woven of hemp or of flax takes far longer to perfect, and is far more useful, than the most translucent and transparent Venetian glass. It was my father’s opinion that that which it takes longest to make is also the more desirable, and therefore the more fit, for lordly persons to use. Instead of pages, lackeys, and grooms, he had sheep, goats, and sows, all attired in their proper and natural livery. These servitors waited upon me in the meadow until it was time for me to drive them home. Our armory was richly furnished with axes, plowshares, hoes, spades, and pitchforks, with which my father daily exercised himself, for to hoe and sow was his conception of military discipline, as it was the practise of the old Romans in time of peace. To span oxen under the yoke was his especial act of high command; to stack dung, his method of throwing up fortifications; to cleanse stables was his most noble pleasure and pastime.

In these various methods he contended with the whole earth, so far as it fell in his domain, and at the time of the yearly harvest season gained from her a sufficient booty. All these matters I mention only, as it were, in passing, nor make any boast thereof, in order that none may have reason to mistake me for any of your upstart nobility, for I consider myself to be not better than was my father before me, who dwelt in the merry Spessart forest, there where the wolves say good night to one another. And that I do not enter upon any lengthy explication of my father’s origin, ancestors, extraction, kith, kin, race, or name, is done merely for the sake of brevity, for the reason that this is no deed of endowment needing an oath, and, finally, because it is sufficient here to record the fact that I was born in the Spessart.

And now, since it is clear in how noble and lordly a fashion my father’s house was arrayed and his household carried on, you may imagine that my breeding was in harmony with these. Indeed, at the age of ten I had already mastered the principles of all my father’s hereinbefore-described occupations. In regard to other studies, however, I might justly have been compared to that Amphistides of whom Suidas relates that he could not count above five. For my father, like many noble persons of this time, considered, in his high spirit, that such studies and school learning were unbecoming a true nobleman, who could indeed have his people for the performance of duties requiring such knowledge. On the other hand, I was no mean performer with the bagpipes, on which I could pipe many a melancholy song. As far as theology is concerned, I doubt whether any other of my age in whole Christendom was then my equal, for I knew neither of God nor of man, of heaven or hell, angels or devils, good or evil. Thus I lived, like our first parents in Paradise, knowing not of death or disease or sin. A noble life—an ass’s life, you may say—in which no one took thought of such things as physic! And it is easy to understand my knowledge in the study of law, and whatever other sciences men rack their brains with; for so perfect and entire was my ignorance, that it was impossible for me to be aught but ignorant of the fact that I was ignorant of all. Once again, I exclaim, a noble life that I led then!

But my father would not let me taste longer of this extreme happiness, but judged rightly that, in conformity with my noble birth and breeding, it was now meet and fit for me to live a noble and active life; hence he began to train me to more difficult undertakings and give me deeper instruction.

He conferred upon me the highest dignity that is not only within his gift, but, indeed, within the world’s—that of a herder of beasts. He entrusted me first with his sows, then with his goats, finally with his whole herd of sheep, which I was to take care of in the pasturage, and protect by means of my bagpipe (whose sound, as Strabo relates, fattens the sheep and lambs in Araby) from the ravages of the wolf. Thus I surely resembled David in all things but that he had a harp instead of the pipes; and this was a favorable omen, giving birth to the hope that, with other good fortune added to this, I might in time become a famous man. For from the very beginning of the world have shepherds been men of high rank and estate, as we read in the Holy Script of Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and his sons, and of Moses, who herded his father-in-law’s sheep ere he became legislator and leader of the six hundred thousand men in Israel.

To be sure, one may reply that these were holy and God-fearing men, no peasant lads from the Spessart, ignorant of God. I confess the force of the objection; but was there no virtue in my then innocence? And among the heathens, too, not only among the chosen people of God, among the Romans there were right noble families, whose names show clearly that they are descended from shepherds. They called themselves Bubulcus, Vitullus, Vitellius, Taurus, because they had herded the cattle which these names signify. Of a truth Romulus and Remus were themselves shepherds; and so was Spartacus, before whom the might of Rome trembled; so were (as Lucian tells us in his dialogue on Helen) Paris, the son of Priam the king, and Anchises, the father of the Trojan prince Æneas. The lovely Endymion, of whom the chaste Luna was enamored, was a shepherd; and so was the horrid Polyphemus. Yea, the very gods themselves took no shame of this calling. Apollo herded the flocks of Admetus; Mercury, his son Daphnis, Pan, and Proteus, were arch-shepherds, and patrons of shepherds in foolish poets’ verses; Mesa, king of Moab, and Cyrus, King of the Persians, and many others. So that it is well said that the office of a shepherd is the best preparation for that of kingship. Thus, as the warlike spirit is first exercised in hunting, so, too, in the shepherd’s calling is the pacific nature and duty of a king to be exercised. All these matters my father understood full well, and to this hour have I not let go the hope of attaining the station of these early prognostications.

But to return to my flock. Learn, then, that I knew the appearance of a wolf as little as any other item in my huge ignorance. The more earnest were the instructions of my father. He said, “Boy, be industrious, and let not the sheep run amuck, and play the pipes steadily, that the wolf may not come and do them harm; for he is such a quadrupedantic rascal and thief, who eats men and beasts. But if thou art careless, I’ll beat thee black and blue!”

I answered with equal sweetness of spirit, “Father, tell me how the wolf looks! I have never seen a wolf.”

“Oh, thou ass’s head!” he answered, “thou’lt be a fool thy life long. I wonder what will become of thee; thou art a great lout, and knowest not how the wolf looks, and what a rascal he is!”

He gave me more instruction, but became impatient at last, and went off murmuring, for he thought that my coarse mind could not catch his subtle instructions.