« Brann, Marcus Brant, Sebastian Brastberger, Immanuel Gottlob »

Brant, Sebastian

BRANT, brɑ̄nt, SEBASTIAN: German satirist; b. at Strasburg 1457; d. there May 10,1521. He was but ten years old when his father died, and, after being educated privately, entered the University of Basel in 1475, where the strife between realism and nominalism had been revived as a struggle between humanism and scholasticism. There Brant devoted himself half-heartedly to the study of law, but his preference for philosophy and poetry proved too unremunerative to yield him a livelihood, so he was obliged to take up the study of jurisprudence in earnest, and finally received the degree of doctor of civil and canon law in 1489. Meanwhile he had developed a literary activity which led him, in addition to the lectures which he delivered after 1484, to write book upon book, partly on jurisprudence, both in Latin and the vernacular, and partly in verse, chiefly in German. Filled with longing for his native city, he applied for the vacant position of syndic, and secured it in the early part of 1501, both through his own reputation and through the recommendation of Johann Geiler. Two years afterward he was appointed secretary of the municipality, and later was made imperial councilor to the emperor Maximilian.

His "Ship of Fools."

Though Brant was either the author or the editor of a long series of books, there is but one which has preserved his fame to the present day, the Narrenschiff (Basel, 1494). The end of the Middle Ages, which marked the wreck and ruin of all the ancient conditions in Church and State, as well as in moral and social life, was felt most keenly in Germany, where it evoked a spirit of satire which spared neither life nor death. The most striking representative of this tendency, next to the Dance of Death, is the Narrenschiff of Brant. Wherever the poet looked, he saw only folly, regardless of sex, age, or estate, and as at carnival the mummers ran through the streets in the guise of fools, often with ships on wheels, he regarded life as a great carnival, where fool on fool took his seat in the ship of fools to voyage to Narragonia, the land of fools. Brant was, therefore, in this sense the spokesman of his time, and his work has become immortal in that it is a mirror of the period. He remained true, moreover, to the genius of the German people, despite his attraction toward humanism and his numerous sentiments and parallels drawn from the classics. His views and his habits of thought were taken from the life around him, and his German, though evidently based on his Latinity, is neither as awkward nor as unintelligible as that of Niclas of Wyle immediately preceding him or that of his successor Hutten. He was so far from intending to restrict his work to the learned that he even considered those who did not know how to read, and accordingly adorned his book with pictures as a substitute for the letters. The Narrenschiff, therefore, alternates between picture and text, thus giving a double representation of folly, an arrangement which divides the poem into disjointed fragments succeeding each other by chance rather than by design, although the diversity of the material would scarcely have permitted the author to mold it into a homogeneous whole. Yet Brant was swayed by two opposing tendencies, and while, on the one hand, he did not hesitate to expose the faults in the external life of the Church with its lack of faith, and its lack of morality, he feared to touch its inner and higher teachings, and lamented the wavering bark of St. Peter, upbraiding the heretics and regarding the printer as an unmixed evil.

(E. Steinmeyer.)

Bibliography: The Narrenschiff was reprinted many times and was as frequently revamped, especially in the Latin translation of Jakob Locher Philomusus (1497). In 1497 it was translated into French, four years later into Latin verse by Jodocus Badius Ascensius, in 1519 into Low German, and in 1635 into Dutch, while in 1509 it was rendered into English by Alexander Barclay under the title of the Ship o/ Fools. The best German edition is by F. Zarncke, Leipsic, 1854, next to it is that by K. Goedeke, ib. 1872. In 1498 a series of sermons was based upon the Narrenschiff by Geiler of Kaisersberg, and it was repeatedly imitated, as in the Von S. Ursulen-Schifflein, by the Brotherhood of St. Ursula (Strasburg, 1497), and by Brant's compatriot, Thomas Murner, in his Narrenbeschwörung (1512). Bibliographies are given by C. Schmidt, Histoire littéraire de l’Alsace, i, 189–333, ii, 340–373, Paris, 1879, and K. Goedeke, Grundriss zur Geschichte der deutschen Dichtung, i, 383–392, Dresden, 1884. The best accounts of the life of Brant are to be found in the introductions to the editions of the Narrenschiff by Zarncke and Goedeke, ut sup. Consult also C. Schmidt, Notice sur Sébastian Brant, in the Revue d’Alsace, new series, vol. iii, 1874.

« Brann, Marcus Brant, Sebastian Brastberger, Immanuel Gottlob »
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