Book Excerpt



BSA Occastional Publications, No.1
New York: The Bibliographical Society of America, 2007. 8.5 x 11 inches. paperback. 212 pages. BSA Occastional Publications, No.1. Reformation pamphlets (or "Flugschriften") were among the first rare book acquisitions of American libraries. Gatch traces the remarkable history of the Leander van Ess collection purchased by the Union Theological Seminary in 1838, the first and largest collection of these religious tracts to arrive in America. He notes how they were originally obtained by van Ess..... READ MORE

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Flugschriften: A Brief Introduction

The purpose of this book is twofold. Its primary goal is to reconstruct the catalogue of the collection of Reformation Flugschriften or pamphlets that was sold in 1838 to the New York Theological Seminary (shortly thereafter renamed Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York) by a German collector, Leander van Ess, as part of a much larger scholarly library. The reconstructed catalogue, with a number of indexes to facilitate reference to the catalogue and to document special characteristics of the van Ess collection, will form the second part of the book. The other aim, to which the first part of this volume is dedicated, is to survey in some detail the history of collections of Reformation pamphlets in America from the first such collections in the early nineteenth century until about the time of World War I, with some further, more cursory, references to the continuing development of collections of Reformation pamphlets in the United States in the twentieth century (Chapter II). In order to explore the contexts of the history of collecting Flugschriften in America, a brief survey of collections in Europe is also provided (Chapter III), as well as some rumination on the use or neglect of the pamphlets by Reformation historians in America (Chapter IV). Finally, there will be an examination of the history of van Ess's collection. This survey will proceed backward from the nearly seventeen decades during which the library of van Ess has been in the New World to the evidence of the origin of at least a part of the collection in Wittenberg during the lifetime of Martin Luther (Chapter V).

The present moment may, fortuitously, be the last in which it will be possible to pursue the goal of tracing the origin and development of an interest in collecting these artifacts of the Reformation in American libraries. It has always been the tendency in all but the most rarified and meticulous American libraries, such as the Morgan in New York City and the Huntington in San Marino, California, to meld collections of rare books together, retaining little or no record of the provenance of individual items or groups of imprints. Compounding the difficulty of tracing the history of collections of books in American libraries is the fact that collections themselves are not stable. It will be seen that large parts of a collection of Reformation materials might be, and indeed have been, disposed of as duplicates, and the provenance of the deaccessioned items lost. Likewise whole collections have also been disposed of en bloc or item-by-item at auction or through dealers' catalogues. Among the collectors of Flugschriften, theological seminaries have always been prominent. These small institutions, often not attached to a university, are economically fragile, and in times of trouble they have hoped (usually in vain) that their rare books could be converted to cash or income-producing assets to shore up struggling schools. Thus, for example, a collection mat began its American history in Hartford, Connecticut, is today the core of a growing collection in a well-endowed university theological school in Atlanta, Georgia. Other collections have been broken up in the market. In yet other cases, collections of pamphlets have changed ownership as institutions merged, and only faint vestiges of their provenance have survived. This kind of activity was accelerated at the end of the twentieth century as the fortunes of the older religious bodies in America began to decline, and struggling schools have sought to divest non-productive assets that did not directly support a mission of professional preparation for ministry. Even as the writing of this book progressed, several collections went on the block and, in one instance, the history of the distinguished collection of Flugschriften from the Swasey Library of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School was recorded for this book at the last moment by means of an examination of the materials in the auction house. For its author, one of the major lessons of research for this book has been that book collections-libraries, indeed-are ephemeral.

The earlier history of American Reformation pamphlet collections also reflects the caprices to which collections of books are subject. The very availability of European collections of books to American collectors and libraries resulted from unpredictable disruption or dispersal of libraries. These dislocations occurred in large part because of disruptive events in religious and political history, particularly the near-total disruption of German monastic life during the Napoleonic wars. Other collections were thrown on the market when private collectors died. Of particular importance for the history of Flugschriften collections was the inability of great scholars (mostly German) or their heirs to place their often-vast private libraries in public collections. And, curiously enough, although it was regarded as important for American educational institutions to acquire such collections, very often they were little used in pedagogy or research. These historical artifacts, most of them written in German and Latin and many printed in types readable by few Americans, lay largely untouched and often uncatalogued, gathering dust in remote corners of books tacks.

The role of pamphlets or Flugschriften in the German Reformation is not the subject of this book, but (by way of background) the genre and its history need to be discussed briefly. The German Reformation began in ISI7, more than half a century after the invention of printing with movable types. By this time, there was already in existence a vast printed literature, and printing had been exploited not only for large, deluxe volumes like the great Bibles and theological tomes, but also for smaller publications and such mundane, everyday applications as legal forms. (The indulgences against which Luther railed, sparking the beginning of the Reformation, were conveyed by means of printed forms--and the printing of indulgences, indeed, antedated the Gutenberg Bible.) Luther and his followers used the press to express their views and to disseminate their teaching, as (to a far lesser extent) did also their opponents. Many of these publications, produced in great profusion, were very, or relatively, short-and these are the Reformation pamphlets.

A succinct and broadly applicable definition of these pamphlets is more difficult to formulate than might at first be imagined. The German name, Flugschriften-literally "flying writings" -is as descriptive as any definition, for printed tracts fly in the sense that they can be quickly produced and easily disseminated. Yet Flugschriften hardly constitute a distinct genre in either form or content. Indeed, in his latest catalogue of Reformation Flugschriften, Michael A. Pegg remarked sardonically that he had "long since abandoned any pretense at defining a pamphlet." They can best be defined quite broadly as relatively short tracts printed during the Reformation period in the sixteenth century. One succinct but expert account of pamphlets calls them, "A novel sixteenth-century medium of communication, . . . extensively used by the advocates of reform." One of the authors of that definition, Hans-Joachim Kohler, is a Ttibingen scholar who has written extensively on Reformation pamphlets and spearheaded an effort to make a very large body of Flugschriften available in microfiche facsimiles accompanied by an expert bibliography. In an early essay, Kohler attempted a restrictive definition: "the pamphlet is an independent, non-recurring, unbound publication of more than one page whose purpose is to agitate (that is, move to action) and/or to propagandize (that is, influence opinion) and which is addressed to the masses or the public-at-Iarge." The problem with this definition is that it excludes liturgical and catechetical publications, as well as translations of Scripture, and the like-all of which, in context, were distinctly part of the Reformation agenda. The definition of Flugschriften for the present book must be one that will fit the collection that called it into being: all of the pamphlets that Leander van Ess included in his "Catalogus D Flugschriften." Except for Pegg's restriction of the dates of pamphlets included in his bibliography, a definition that will include all of the van Ess Flugschriften comports more comfortably with Pegg's inclusiveness than with Kohler's precision.

In format, Flugschriften are usually quartos; the smaller octavo format is not uncommon, whereas folios are very rare. Often Flugschriften consist of no more than one or two four-leaf gatherings, although they can be as small as a single bifolium or considerably longer. Publications of over one hundred leaves (i.e., two hundred pages: 'books' in common parlance) are not uncommonly intermixed with pamphlets properly so-called in collections of Flugschriften. Although Flugschriften were generally small and relatively informal in their makeup and typography, about three-quarters of all the imprints featured woodcuts on their covering title pages, a means of attracting the attention of potential purchasers. A number of the woodcuts were compositions by noted artists such as the elder Lucas Cranach. Most of the designs were ornamental borders, but vignettes, coats-of-arms, and the like (with some aptness to the contents of the pamphlet or its author) were also widely used.

In content, the pamphlets are diverse. They are best known to the wide public as controversial writings. Both the Reformers and their opponents used this means of communication for controversial purposes, as Kohler's definition would have it. But sermons-as likely to be pastoral as polemical-probably constitute the single largest genre under the umbrella of pamphlets. One also finds purely controversial tracts, dialogues, works of biblical exegesis, official reports, letters, and many other types of publication. Kohler sums up the importance of the Reformation pamphlets and the range of scholarly, historical interests they can inform:

Because of their pivotal role in the communication of information, opinions, and values from the learned world to the everyday world of the majority of people and because of their variety, both in manner of presentation and in the themes treated, the Flugschrifien are a rich and (for many historical questions) indispensable historical source for research by linguists and literary scholars, historians, theologians, sociologists and art historians.

Some bibliographers of Flugschriften have restricted the range of dates covered. Michael Pegg, for example, has begun his numerous pamphlet lists with Luther's first outbursts in 1516 and ended around mid-century, usually 1546, the year of Luther's death. In this, he follows the example of a long line of German bibliographers, culminating in the magisterial work of Josef Benzing. The catalogue of the Reformation pamphlets owned by Leander van Ess, on the other hand, included religious writings from throughout the sixteenth century, with one item printed as late as 1591. Indeed, to accommodate this wider scope, the term tracts has often been used (as, for example, at the library of Union Theological Seminary) in the sense of publications published in support of their beliefs by religious organizations. The term may have been thought to avoid the generic implications of pamphlet, implying that works so categorized are not necessarily subject to restrictions of length or reflective of the aura of" controversy that attaches to pamphleteering. The collection of Leander van Ess-perhaps the only collection of the early nineteenth century that is consciously defined as being devoted only to Flugschriften-is, in fact, quite mixed, with sermons and controversial pieces mingled indiscriminately with biblical translation and exposition, pastoral and liturgical materials, and some secular political pieces; and it contains items ranging in length from four leaves to more than one hundred. In discussing the place of van Ess's collection in the history of American collecting, it will also be necessary to look at libraries of German scholars whose collecting scope was far broader than that of a more strictly defined collection of Flugschriften. Michael Pegg, although restrictive as to date and categorically excluding large-format publications (i.e., folios), has adopted a similarly broad definition of acceptable lengths and topics under the rubric of "pamphlet." And it has already been noted that Pegg in the end has thrown up his hands at the effort to define Flugschriften narrowly.

When the Reformation began, over sixty years after the invention of printing, the new technology had become firmly established, and many cities were home to printers whose output often responded to the wants of the local market. Whether or not it was a matter of conscious strategy, the Reformers-Martin Luther chief among them-kept the press well supplied with texts, and it has quite rightly been said that Flugschriften became a mass medium of the age of the Reformation. The output was enormous-a fact compounded by the phenomenon that many of the pamphlets were reprinted by the original printers or by other printers in the city of original publication as well as also by printers in other cities where there was a market for the works. The first volume (1989) of Josef Bending and Helmut Claus's Lutherbibliographie listed 3,692 Luther imprints from before the year of his death, 1546-an astounding output, even though a large majority of the entries in the bibliography are reprints. Luther, his supporters, and their opponents made public what, in an earlier age, would have been internal debate amongst academicians and theologians. Their use of printed disputation in the vernacular language, moreover, engaged a far wider part of the public of German-speaking Europe (the deutsches Sprachgebiet) than could have been dreamt of a century earlier. And this was followed up by the introduction of a coherent program of ecclesiastical reform promulgated by the same means. Yet there are many unsettled issues concerning the precise role of print in the dissemination of the program of the Reformation, as opposed to the role of oral teaching in a society in which literacy, although increasing, was by no means universal.

Flugschriften survive in significant numbers. The larger issues of the rationale for the use of pamphlets by their first readers, however, are not the focus of this study, which will concentrate instead on a survey of the first imports of pamphlets from the Reformation to America some three centuries after the writings of Luther and his colleagues began to flow forth from the press.

First, however, perhaps a few further prefatory words should be offered about the motives of collectors and librarians for acquiring these documents of the Reformation. Before the end of the sixteenth century, the Flugschriften (especially the writings of Luther himself) had ceased to be the primary resources on which theologians, historians, or other scholars had to rely for their research. In the year of Luther's death, 1546, the Wittenberger Ausgabe-a major edition of his works-which would reach twelve volumes in German and seven in Latin, had begun to appear. It was not the first collective edition of his work, and by no means would it be the last. The effort to make all of Luther's writings available culminated in the great 1¥eimarer Ausgabe, begun in 1883, four centuries after the reformer's birth. The apparatus of the Weimar edition recorded most of the known textual variants of his work. The writings of lesser (especially lay) contributors to the flood of Flugschriften were less likely to be reprinted or catalogued, and they did indeed remain rare, often fugitive, artifacts. They were also-at least initially-of less interest to scholars and collectors. And so it was that pamphlets and books by Luther and other major reformers, their associates, their opponents, political authorities, and other contributors (sometimes rather tangentially related to the religious reform) came to be valued as artifacts of a pivotal moment in European and Christian history. They had become collectors' items, rare books. And the attraction of Flugschriften as bibliographical artifacts of the Reformation was enhanced by their distinctive title-page typefaces, frequent use of elegant and Renaissance-inspired woodcut vignettes and borders, antique papers and ancient text types. They were primary witnesses to the movement and its prolific appropriation of the arts of printing. Whether collected by men and (occasionally) women of taste and culture or preserved in libraries as artifacts of history, from the latter half of the sixteenth century onward, the pamphlets of the Reformation have been regarded rather as collectors' items than as primary documents.

Until the beginning of the twentieth century, scholars turned to the texts of the pamphlets as raw materials for the development of theology-indeed, of orthodoxy within their confessional traditions: Lutheran (or Evangelical), Calvinist (or Reformed), Anabaptist, etc. With the rise of scientific history in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many church historians revised their understanding of their task as scholars, seeking less to preserve theological truth, as it had been received, than to portray objectively the historical development of theology, and (increasingly) the development of the institutions of Christianity. Objectivity, rather than faithfulness, became the watchword of many (if not all) church historians. Until after World War II, the sources of the historians remained almost exclusively the edited collections of the primary writings. In the last half-century, students of the Reformation have carried this objective research much further, seeking in the pamphlets and other documents of the era "insights into the people and institutions of 16th-century society-how their attitudes and beliefs were shaped, the techniques of communication and propaganda, the rise of new cultures, the inculcation of new values, the enforcement of new laws." Thus the pamphlets as originally printed may finally assume an important role in Renaissance historiography.