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From daily sermons to satire, the rediscovered musings of a long-lost German polymath

Polymath

Dr Karen Attar, Senate House Library’s curator of rare books and university art, opens the library’s Vye Collection to view the work of Philipp Balthasar Sinold von Schütz, a ’pietistic Protestant polymath who wrote under several pseudonyms’. 

The German writer Philipp Balthasar Sinold von Schütz (1657–1742) was a man of many facets. He was active as a lawyer, a writer, a translator and a journalist. And this pietistic Protestant polymath who wrote under several pseudonyms. As Irenicus Ehrenkorn he produced the Schlesiche Kirchenhistorie (1715), while as Faramond he wrote satirical pieces flagellating the follies of his contemporaries. His best-known work, however, is the output with a Christian slant published under the name of Amadeus Creutzberg, a major example of which is highlighted here.

The Gottseelige Betrachtungen (‘Godly observations for every day of the whole year’) is intended, as we read in the marketing element of the sub-title, to ‘encourage, edify, relieve and comfort’. It is one of a genre, as demonstrated materially by another similar work in the collection of 98 titles to which it belongs, Johann Friedrich Starck’s two-volume Morgen- und Abend- Andachten frommer Christen auf alle Tage im Jahre (‘Morning and evening devotions of pious Christians for every day of the year’, 1766).

Starck, as his title declares, provides two reflections per day as opposed to Sinold von Schütz’s one. Each of Sinold von Schütz’s 365 reflections is, however, meaty, comprising between two-and-a-half and three pages and ends with a four-line verse from a poem or hymn. The reflection begins with a Bible verse or two in a large font, followed by exposition and application in a smaller font. This section of text cites other biblical verses.

Following the meditation is a prayer and a four-line verse from a poem or hymn. At the beginning of each month is a seasonal full-page copper engraving pertaining to farming or other food production, in an unsubtle visual connection between bodily and spiritual food. As in emblem books, a verse applies the activity to our lives.

For example, the illustrations for July and August show mowing the grass, with warnings to prepare for death. The picture for February (shown left) portrays two cupids, one of whom is warming himself by a roaring fire. The verse tells the reader that whoever sits by the fire preserves his body from frost, and enjoins him to hasten to the glowing love of Jesus so that his soul will not grow cold.

The work is not intended to be a methodical way of reading the Bible, but is supplementary to it. Readings jump around, such that the verse for 1 February is Psalm 34:1 (34:2 according to the German numbering), that for 2 February is from the New Testament, Galatians 2:16; the verse for 3 February is Genesis 3:15; on 4 February the reader is invited to contemplate Matthew 5:4, and so on.

The 18th-century reflections are presented in simple everyday language that finds resonance in pietistic prayers and writings today. However, the content can sound strikingly modern. Take, for example, the introductory words for 1 February, on the words: ‘I will bless the Lord at all times’: The more people have, the more they want to have; therefore they despise what they already possess and focus on what they do not yet possess and on how to acquire it. When they thank their benefactor for their good deeds, they do so not from recognition of the benefits they have received, but often from a selfish intention to move the benefactor to still greater generosity.

Sinold von Schütz dedicates the book to a woman, the widowed duchess Louise Elisabeth of Saxony (1673–1736), known for piety and selected by the author as one with ‘particular love for God and for spiritual exercises’. The preface is by Johann Georg Pritius (1662–1732), a doctor of theology and Lutheran pastor in Frankfurt.

Sinold von Schütz would have recognised Pritius’s pietistic leanings from Pritius’s own Das wahre Christenthum: wie dasselbe durch das Werck im Glauben, durch die Arbeit in der Liebe, und durch Gedult in der Hoffnung soll ausgeübet werden (‘True Christianity: how it should be practised by deeds in faith, work in love, and patience in hope’, 1717). However, Pritius’s works are mainly in Latin and more academic and theological than devotional, such as an edition of the Greek New Testament, a Greek-Latin biblical dictionary, and a Latin introduction to the New Testament.

The choice of associated names indicates publishing astuteness. Furthermore, dates for the meditations are given without the days of the week to facilitate the perpetual use of the book. And it was used perpetually, and for an extended period. Several editions speedily followed this first one up until 1755, and the book was reprinted as late as 1829.

Despite this proliferation, the title has become rare. Was it read to pieces, or was it merely regarded as secondary for studious purposes, especially outside the German-speaking world? At any rate, the Senate House Library copy is the only copy of any edition recorded on Copac, the UK’s catalogue of national and research libraries.

One of the first books given to the new University of London in 1838, it sits among the other books of the same bulk donation in Senate House Library’s recently reconstituted Vye Collection.

Dr Karen Attar is the curator of rare books and university art at Senate House Library, and a research fellow at the Institute of English Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. Her article on the Vye collection generally, ‘The Earliest Books at the Universityof London (1838): 185 Volumes Presented by Nathaniel Vye, Esq’ is available here.

Other articles on the collections in Senate House Library
King Lear: 400 years of the second quarto of Shakespeare’s great tragedy
Joyful tidings: 175 years of Christmas cards
Looking back at the Thirty Years War
The decapitation of Sir Walter Raleigh: villain or victim?
Celebrating the 450th anniversary of the ‘Bishops’ Bible’ 
Queen Victoria’s journal reveals her rosy view of Scotland
Shakespeare scintillation: Senate House Library’s first folios

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