Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > German
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vol. XII: German
 
Doctor Schnatterer Lectures upon the Devil
By Wilhelm Hauff (1802–1827)
 
From “Memoirs of Satan”

I LEFT the philosophers and went in search of the theologians. In order to become better acquainted with them I determined to visit one or two of them after Sunday morning service. I dressed in black, so as to look like a divinity student, and set out. I had been warned against coming to a too hasty conclusion in regard to the piety and purity of these worthy men, since, following the spirit of the Old Testament, they were given to a disregard of externals, and thus had a tendency to uncouthness.
  1
  Fortifying my heart with patience, I entered the study of the first theologian, Dr. Schnatterer. From out of a great cloud of blue smoke arose an elderly, stoutish man holding a great meerschaum pipe. He nodded curtly, and then looked at me, half inquiringly, half irritated. I explained to him how philosophy had failed to satisfy my deeper needs, and that hence I desired to hear lectures on theology. He murmured a few inaudible but, as it seemed, learned remarks, smiled in a pleased way, and walked up and down the room.  2
  I assumed an invitation to accompany him on his promenade, and therefore walked beside him with a gait equally grave, listening for any utterance from his learned lips. In vain! He grinned a little now and then, but said nothing. At least, I heard nothing except indistinctly the words, “Have a pipe?” I inferred that he was offering me a smoke, but I could not avail myself of his offer. The brand of tobacco he smoked was too monstrously vile.  3
  It is long since I have ceased to let anything embarrass me, else had the professor’s protracted silence made me lose my self-control completely. As it was, I calmly continued to walk up and down beside him, turned when he turned, and repeatedly counted the length of the room by paces. After I had sufficiently admired the old-fashioned furniture, the various odds and ends of clothes and linen on the chairs, and the extraordinary chaos of his desk, I fixed my attention on the professor himself. His appearance was most strange. A fringe of long hair surrounded his bald crown; his knitted nightcap he carried under his arm. His dressing-gown was torn at the elbow, and had numerous holes, which had evidently been burned into it. One of his lower members was clothed in a black silk stocking and a buckled shoe, the other protruded half bare from a yellowish sock and an old slipper. But before I was able to take full advantage of his mysterious silence for my observations, the door was torn open. A tall, scraggy woman, her cheeks red with rage, burst in.  4
  “Now, this is a shame, Blasius!” she cried. “The sexton is here, and is hunting for you to come and administer Holy Communion. The deacon is already at the altar, and you are here in your dressing-gown!”  5
  “I assure you, my dear,” answered the doctor quite coolly, “it was sheer forgetfulness! But behold, one leg had I already equipped for the service of the Lord, when a thought occurred to me that will reduce the arguments of Dr. P—— to nothing.”  6
  Regardless of the fact that he was shedding almost everything that covered his body, he was about to throw off his dressing-gown in order to deck out the rest of his cadaver for the Lord’s service. But with a quick turn his wife threw herself in front of him, and, spreading out her skirts, hid his nakedness.  7
  “Your pardon, sir,” she said, suppressing her rage. “He is so taken up with the zeal of office that you must excuse him. Give us the pleasure of your company another time. He must be off to church now.”  8
  Silently I took my hat, and left the doctor in care of his amiable Xantippe. “A fine beginning in theology!” I thought, and lost all desire to visit the other reverend gentlemen. Nevertheless I resolved to hear a few lectures, and this resolve I carried out next day.  9
  Imagine a large, low hall, thronged with young men in the most extraordinary costumes. Caps of all shapes and colors, long flowing or clipped standing hair, long venerable beards and conceited little mustaches, fashionable frock coats, with large cravats next to old-fashioned jackets and large white baby collars. Thus the reverend young gentlemen sat in their lecture-hall. Each individual had before him a lot of writing-paper, ink, and pens, for the purpose of taking down the words of wisdom he was about to hear. “Oh, Plato and Socrates,” thought I, “had the students of your academy but taken down your words, how much of profound, nay, sacred wisdom had not been uttered so vainly! How goodly a showing in many libraries would the majestic folios of Socrates’s works make!”  10
  All heads were bared. A short, stout figure made its way to the pulpit-like reading-desk. It was Dr. Schnatterer, whom I had visited the day before. He seemed to scan the assembly with rapture. He coughed a little, and began:  11
  “Highly-to-be-respected-and-honored gentlemen!” (He meant those who paid him a fee of six Thaler.)  12
  “Worthy gentlemen!” (He meant those who paid the regular fee.)  13
  “Gentlemen!” (He meant those whom, on account of their poverty, the university taught for a small fee—or none.)  14
  And now he began his lecture, and the pens scratched and the paper rustled. He looked like the moon peeping from between rain-clouds.  15
  I could not have come more opportunely, for the doctor was just discussing subjects under the heading of evil spirits, and I could hope for much information of a very personal kind. In truth, he did not keep me waiting long. “The devil,” he said, “persuaded the first two human beings to sin, and is still an enemy to the race.” After this sentence I expected to hear a philosophical disquisition upon the doctrine of the devil. Not so, however. The doctor stuck at the word “devil,” and at the fact that the Jews had called me Beelzebub. With an exhibition of recondite learning such as I had certainly never expected to find under his cap, he threw the word Beelzebub about for three-quarters of an hour. Some, he declared, explained it as signifying “Master of Flies”; the Chaldeans and Syrians interpreted it as the “Accuser”; others, again, connected it with the Oriental expression for sepulcher. The pens of the students whirred and flew. Such learning is not often to be heard.  16
  But the doctor had taken up most of his time now, for his citations from writings sacred and profane were endless. At first I had been amused to see dogma treated in this fashion, and myself so thoroughly analyzed, but at last I grew weary, and was about to move from my seat and leave the speaker to his endless twaddle, when he paused for a moment. The students blew their noses, changed the positions of their legs, and put new nibs into their penholders. “Now comes the crowning moment!” I thought.  17
  It did.  18
  The great theologian, having elucidated and appreciated the opinions of others, now set out, with dignity and unction, to give his own view of the matter.  19
  All these explanations, he said, had little value, for they did not attach an appropriate meaning to the word. He himself could, however, offer an explanation which would surpass that of Michaelis and Döderlein. He read the Hebrew word as Saphael, which signifies mud, or dung. Hence the devil, or Beelzebub, is the lord of dung, the unclean—pneuma akatharton, the stinker; and, indeed, in popular stories the appearance of the devil is always accompanied by an evil odor.  20
  I could hardly trust my ears. Never had I heard anything equally insulting. I was about to apply the same method to the orthodox exegetist which Dr. Luther (who really did not know how to take a joke) applied to me—that is, to pitch the nearest inkstand at him; but a better and more effective vengeance occurred to me. Hence I restrained my wrath.  21
  Conscious of his dignity, the doctor closed his note-book, glanced all round him, and started to the door. The deep silence which had reigned in the hall gave place to a murmur of approval:  22
  “What a learned man! What a deep thinker! What depths beneath depths of learning!” The students busily compared their note-books to make sure that they had lost none of the words of wisdom, and happy was he whose report of the lecture seemed complete….  23
  But I had sworn to be revenged on the doctor, and I was hardly one to forget my vow.  24
 
 
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