GHDI logo

The Face of War – H. J. C. Grimmelshausen’s The Adventurous Simplicissimus (1669)

The modern image of the Thirty Years War (1618-48) as three decades of unremitting plunder and murder by marauding troops is largely attributable to a single novel, The Adventurous Simplicissimus (1669) by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen (1622-76). Easily the most widely read German novel of the seventeenth century, it was the only German work between Luther and Lessing to enter the canon of international literature. It begins with the rural childhood of Simplicissimus (literally: simpleton) and follows his development into a professional vagrant during the war. The earlier part of the book contains much realism, the latter part much allegory and fantasy.

The following chapters from Book I describe the suffering of largely defenseless peasants at the hands of soldiers, especially cavalry. Grimmelshausen’s descriptions of practices such as the “Swedish draught” [schwedischer Trunk] and other forms of torture lend an aura of verisimilitude to the stories and remind the reader that he had himself lived through the war.

print version     return to document list previous document     

page 1 of 7


SO I began to make such ado with my bagpipe and such noise that ’twas enough to poison all the toads in the garden, and so methought I was safe enough from the wolf that was ever in my mind: and remembering me of my mammy (for so they do use to call their mothers in the Spessart and the Vogelsberg) how she had often said the fowls would some time or other die of my singing, I fell upon the thought to sing the more, and so make my defence against the wolf stronger; and so I sang this which I had learned from my mammy:

1. O peasant race so much despised,
How greatly art thou to be priz’d?
Yea, none thy praises can excel,
If men would only mark thee well.

2. How would it with the world now stand
Had Adam never till’d the land?
With spade and hoe he dug the earth
From whom our princes have their birth.

3. Whatever earth doth bear this day
Is under thine high rule and sway,
And all that fruitful makes the land
Is guided by thy master hand.

4. The emperor whom God doth give
Us to protect, thereby doth live:
So doth the soldier: though his trade
To thy great loss and harm be made.

5. Meat for our feasts thou dost provide:
Our wine by thee too is supplied:
Thy plough can force the earth to give
That bread whereby all men must live.

6. All waste the earth and desert were
Didst thou not ply thy calling there:
Sad day shall that for all be found
When peasants cease to till the ground.

7. So hast thou right to laud and praise,
For thou dost feed us all our days.
Nature herself thee well doth love,
And God thy handiwork approve.

8. Whoever yet on earth did hear
Of peasant that the gout did fear;
That fell disease which rich men dread,
Whereby is many a noble dead.

9. From all vainglory art thou free
(As in these days thou well mayst be),
And lest thou shouldst through pride have loss,
God bids thee daily bear thy cross.

10. Yea, even the soldier’s wicked will
May work thee great advantage still:
For lest thou shouldst to pride incline,
“Thy goods and house,” saith he, “are mine.”

So far and no further could I get with my song: for in a moment was I surrounded, sheep and all, by a troop of cuirassiers that had lost their way in the thick wood and were brought back to their right path by my music and my calls to my flock. “Aha,” quoth I to myself, “these be the right rouges! these be the four-legged knaves and thieves whereof thy dad did tell thee!” For at first I took horse and man (as did the Americans the Spanish cavalry) to be but one beast, and could not but conceive these were the wolves; and so would sound the retreat for these horrible centaurs and send them a-flying: but scarce had I blown up my bellows to that end when one of them catches me by the shoulder and swings me up so roughly upon a spare farm horse they had stolen with other booty that I musts need fall on the other side, and that too upon my dear bagpipe, which began so miserably to scream as it would move all the world to pity: which availed nought, though it spared not its last breath in the bewailing of my sad fate. To horse again I must go, it mattered not what my bagpipe did sing or say: yet what vexed me most was that the troopers said I had hurt my dear bagpipe, and therefore it had made so heathenish an outcry. So away my horse went with me at a good trot, like the “primum mobile,” for my dad’s farm.

Now did strange and fantastic imaginations fill my brain; for I did conceive, because I sat upon such a beast as I had never before seen, that I too should be changed into an iron man. And because such a change came not, there arose in me other foolish fantasies: for I thought these strange creatures were but there to help me drive my sheep home; for none strayed from the path, but all, with one accord, made for my dad’s farm. So I looked anxiously when my dad and my mammy should come out to bid us welcome: which yet came not: for they and our Ursula, which was my dad’s only daughter, had found the back-door open and would not wait for their guests.

first page < previous   |   next > last page