Basel: The Child

The Child
Basel's dance of death, the child
Kreüch har Kind du muost tantzen lehren
Weint oder lach magst dich nit wehren
Hettest schon die brüst in deinem mund
So hilffts dich nitt zuo dißer stund
Death to The Child
Crawl over here, Child, you must learn to dance.
Cry or laugh, you may not refuse.
Even if you had the breast in your mouth,
It wouldn't help you in this moment.
O wee mein liebes Müetterlein,
Ein dürrer man zücht mich dahin,
O müetterlein wilt du mich Lahn
Muoß tantzen und kan noch kaum gahn
The Child.
Oh woe, my dear little mother,
a dry mand drags me away.
Oh little mother, will you leave me?
I must dance and can still hardly walk.
Kleinbasel, The child,
Büchel, Child

Death and the child's dialogue is almost verbatim the same as in Heidelberg's block book and other versions of the high German dance of death.

The child is not included in Matthew Merian's copperplates or by any of the other artists because in Merian's time the child had already been painted over and replaced by pictures of the painter and his family.

The gouache above is from a picture book from about 1600.

Frölich / Scharffenberg
(from a 1786-edition)
Scharffenberg, The child

The cornfed little boy complains that he "can hardly walk", although he's wearing shoes and owns a fancy hobby horse. The boy is "dragged away by a dry man". Oddly enough Basel calls Death a "dry man" in places where Heidelberg says "black man". The gouache show that the boy is indeed dragged away by a black corpse. In fact it takes two corpses to handle the boy, but the second corpse must be a newer addition, since there is only one Death in Kleinbasel (picture to the left).

While the gouache is the only pictorial representation of the child we have, the dialogue is well documented in several written sources. Der Todendantz, Ludwig Iselin's manuscript from 1577 and Frölich all included the dialogues of the child and the Turk. Urbis Basil. Epitaphia et Inscriptiones by Johann Georg Gross from 1623 and later also includes the child and the Turk, and Merian included the child's dialogue in one of the two 1621-editions, but without a picture.

Most of these sources assign an extra 5th line to the child, so the last 3 lines sound:

O Mütterlein wilt du mich lon,
Muß tantzen und kan noch kaum stohn:
Ach lehr mich vor im Kärrnlin gohn
Oh little mother, will you leave me?
I must dance, and can still hardly stand.
Alas, teach me first to go in the little cart.

When Frölich published Zwen Todentäntz in 1588, the book was illustrated with woodcuts by Georg Scharffenberg (picture to the right). This woodcuts, like most of the other, is a copy of Holbein's dance of death, but the text is still the one from Basel, and in this shape the child's dialogue survived through countless editions and reprints by the family Mechel until at least 1870.