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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Luther’s Table-Talk
By Martin Luther (1483–1546)
 
DR. LUTHER’S wife complaining to him of the indocility and untrustworthiness of servants, he said:—“A faithful and good servant is a real Godsend, but truly, ’tis a ‘rare bird in the land.’ We find every one complaining of the idleness and profligacy of this class of people: we must govern them Turkish fashion,—so much work, so much victuals,—as Pharaoh dealt with the Israelites in Egypt.”  1
 
  “BEFORE I translated the New Testament out of the Greek, all longed after it; when it was done, their longing lasted scarce four weeks. Then they desired the Books of Moses; when I had translated these, they had enough thereof in a short time. After that, they would have the Psalms; of these they were soon weary, and desired other books. So will it be with the Book of Ecclesiasticus, which they now long for, and about which I have taken great pains. All is acceptable until our giddy brains be satisfied; afterwards we let things lie, and seek after new.”  2
 
  AUGUST 25th, 1538, the conversation fell upon witches who spoil milk, eggs, and butter in farm-yards. Dr. Luther said:—“I should have no compassion on these witches; I would burn all of them. We read in the old law that the priests threw the first stone at such malefactors. ’Tis said this stolen butter turns rancid and falls to the ground when any one goes to eat it. He who attempts to counteract and chastise these witches is himself corporeally plagued and tormented by their master the Devil. Sundry schoolmasters and ministers have often experienced this. Our ordinary sins offend and anger God. What then must be his wrath against witchcraft, which we may justly designate high treason against divine majesty,—a revolt against the infinite power of God? The jurisconsults who have so learnedly and pertinently treated of rebellion affirm that the subject who rebels against his sovereign is worthy of death. Does not witchcraft, then, merit death, being a revolt of the creature against the Creator,—a denial to God of the authority it accords to the demon?”  3
 
  DR. LUTHER discussed at length concerning witchcraft and charms. He said that his mother had had to undergo infinite annoyance from one of her neighbors, who was a witch, and whom she was fain to conciliate with all sorts of attentions; for this witch could throw a charm upon children which made them cry themselves to death. A pastor having punished her for some knavery, she cast a spell upon him by means of some earth upon which he had walked, and which she bewitched. The poor man hereupon fell sick of a malady which no remedy could remove, and shortly after died.  4
 
  IT was asked: Can good Christians and God-fearing people also undergo witchcraft? Luther replied, “Yes, for our bodies are always exposed to the attacks of Satan. The maladies I suffer are not natural, but devil’s spells.”  5
 
  “WHEN I was young, some one told me this story: Satan had in vain set all his craft and subtlety at work to separate a married pair that lived together in perfect harmony and love. At last, having concealed a razor under each of their pillows, he visited the husband, disguised as an old woman, and told him that his wife had formed the project of killing him; he next told the same thing to the wife. The husband, finding the razor under his wife’s pillow, became furious with anger at her supposed wickedness, and cut her throat. So powerful is Satan in his malice.”  6
 
  DR. LUTHER said he had heard from the Elector of Saxony, John Frederic, that a powerful family in Germany was descended from the Devil,—the founder having been born of a succubus. He added this story:—“A gentleman had a young and beautiful wife, who, dying, was buried. Shortly afterwards, this gentleman and one of his servants sleeping in the same chamber, the wife who was dead came at night, bent over the bed of the gentleman as though she were conversing with him, and after a while went away again. The servant, having twice observed this circumstance, asked his master whether he knew that every night a woman clothed in white stood by his bedside. The master replied that he had slept soundly, and had observed nothing of the sort. The next night he took care to remain awake. The woman came, and he asked her who she was and what she wanted. She answered that she was his wife. He returned, ‘My wife is dead and buried.’ She answered, she had died by reason of his sins; but that if he would receive her again, she would return to him in life. He said if it were possible, he should be well content. She told him he must undertake not to swear, as he was wont to do; for that if he ever did so, she should once more die, and permanently quit him. He promised this; and the dead woman, returning to seeming life, dwelt with him, ate, drank, and slept with him, and had children by him. One day that he had guests, his wife went to fetch some cakes from an adjoining apartment, and remained a long time absent. The gentleman grew impatient, and broke out into his old oaths. The wife not returning, the gentleman with his friends went to seek her, but she had disappeared; only the clothes she had worn lay on the floor. She was never again seen.” 1  7
 
  “THE DEVIL seduces us at first by all the allurements of sin, in order thereafter to plunge us into despair; he pampers up the flesh, that he may by-and-by prostrate the spirit. We feel no pain in the act of sin; but the soul after it is sad, and the conscience disturbed.”  8
 
  “THE DEVIL often casts this into my breast: ‘How if thy doctrine be false and erroneous, wherewith the pope, the mass, friars and nuns are thus dejected and startled?’ at which the sour sweat has drizzled from me. But at last, when I saw he would not leave, I gave him this answer: ‘Avoid, Satan: address thyself to my God, and talk with him about it; for the doctrine is not mine but his,—he has commanded me to hearken unto this Christ.’”  9
 
  “BETWEEN husband and wife there should be no question as to meum and tuum. All things should be in common between them, without any distinction or means of distinguishing.”  10
 
  “ST. AUGUSTINE said finely: ‘A marriage without children is the world without the sun.’”  11
 
  DR. LUTHER said one day to his wife: “You make me do what you will; you have full sovereignty here, and I award you with all my heart the command in all household matters, reserving my rights in other points. Never any good came out of female domination. God created Adam master and lord of living creatures; but Eve spoilt all, when she persuaded him to set himself above God’s will. “’Tis you women, with your tricks and artifices, that lead men into error.”  12
 
  “’TIS a grand thing for a married pair to live in perfect union, but the Devil rarely permits this. When they are apart, they cannot endure the separation; and when they are together, they cannot endure the always seeing one another. ’Tis as the poet says: ‘Nec tecum vivere possum, nec sine te.’ Married people must assiduously pray against these assaults of the Devil. I have seen marriage where, at first, husband and wife seemed as though they would eat one another up; in six months they have separated in mutual disgust. ’Tis the Devil inspires this evanescent ardor, in order to divert the parties from prayer.”  13
 
  DR. LUTHER said, in reference to those who write satirical attacks upon women, that such will not go unpunished. “If the author be one of high rank, rest assured he is not really of noble origin, but a surreptitious intruder into the family. What defects women have, we must check them for in private, gently by word of mouth; for woman is a frail vessel.” The doctor then turned round and said, “Let us talk of something else.”  14
 
  THERE was at Frankfort-on-the-Oder a schoolmaster, a pious and learned man, whose heart was fervently inclined to theology, and who had preached several times with great applause. He was called to the dignity of deacon; but his wife, a violent, fierce woman, would not consent to his accepting the charge, saying she would not be the wife of a minister.  15
  It became a question, what was the poor man to do? which was he to renounce, his preachership or his wife? Luther at first said jocosely, “Oh, if he has married, as you tell me, a widow, he must needs obey her.” But after a while he resumed severely: “The wife is bound to follow her husband, not the husband his wife. This must be an ill woman, nay, the Devil incarnate, to be ashamed of a charge with which our Lord and his Apostles were invested. If she were my wife, I should shortly say to her, ‘Wilt thou follow me, aye or no? Reply forthwith;’ and if she replied, ‘No,’ I would leave her, and take another wife.”  16
 
  THE HAIR is the finest ornament women have. Of old, virgins used to wear it loose, except when they were in mourning. I like women to let their hair fall down their back; ’tis a most agreeable sight.  17
 
Note 1. Barham has used this story in the ‘Ingoldsby Legends,’—‘The Blasphemer’s Warning.’ [back]
 
 
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