One of our sources to the High German 4-lined Dance of Death (Oberdeutscher vierzeiliger Totentanz) is the manuscript Cgm 270.(1)
A paper-note from a former owner is dated 1464, but the exact meaning of this is unclear, since the manuscript consists of two parts that were bound together in the 16th century. The dance of death is included in the first of these two parts, while the last part ends by repeating the year 1464.
Not only is Cgm 270 old, but it was probably the first dance of death-manuscript ever to be edited and published. In the very early 19th century Bavaria was being secularized, and on this occasion a library commission visited all the monasteries of the country to see what treasures were to be found in their libraries.
One of these books was the Cgm 270, which according to a pencil note on the first page is from the monastery Marie in Rothenbuch. The librarian Bernhard Joseph Docen (1782-1828) realized that the text in this manuscript was related to the famous dance of death in Basel, and in 1806 he published half of the text in Neuer literarischer Anzeiger under the title »Ein altteutscher TodtenTanz«.
In Docen's next article he informed his readers that "Mr. Publisher" (den Hrn. Herausgeber) had made him aware of another book that contained a similar text. This "Mr. Publisher" var Johann Christoph von Aretin, who as chairman of the library commission participated in selecting those books from the monasteries that could enrich the royal library. In April 1805 Aretin himself had found Xyl. 39 in the monastery in Weyarn.
Docen used Xyl. 39 to correct some of the more obscure passages in Cgm 270. For instance the three lines with the first preacher that doesn't rhyme: »Mit des himels portten / Die in ist geoffneten / Das ander die pössen wist«. In Xyl. 39 the first letter of the word "Geöffent" had been marked with red to indicate that the line should break here, which renders a fine rhyme: »Mit des h’mels porth, die jn ist / Geöffent Das ander d’e bösen wist«.
Among other passages were: »Das ain get hin das ander her / Durch das erst die frumen hand gewin«, where "her" doesn't rhyme with "gewin". Xyl. 39 has "hin" and "her" in the correct sequence. A third example (still with the first preacher) is »Das ander halb ist fröd beraitt«. Why "ander halb", before anybody else has been mentioned? Xyl. 39 has the more logical text: »Das ainhalb ist gantze frėud berait«.
In his third and last article Docen brought the rest of the text from Cgm 270, and by now the influence from the Xyl. 39 was predominant to the extent that Docen not just altered the text, but he even exchanged the order of merchant and nun, and of beggar and cook, even if today we'll have to say that at this point it was the Cgm 270 that sported the better text.
Docen's text was replete with more of less random alterations, improvements and errors. He simply skipped the ending with the second preacher because he regarded it to be "a series of admonishments that could be left out without disadvantage" ("die hier ohne Nachtheil wegbleiben können").
Docen's intention was not to emphasize the idiosyncrasies of each manuscript (when he started he only knew about Cgm 270), but to present to his readers an unknown text that was reminiscent of the famous dance in Basel. If for instance the manuscript said "chain", he would translate it into modern German "kein" to ease understanding. At other times it is less clear why he has altered the text. The emperor says that he could have honoured the country with battle and fight: »Mit streitten vnd uechten«, but Docen writes almost the opposite »Nit streiten vnd vechten«.
With his articles Docen raised an interest in the old dance of death-manuscripts, but at the same time he created confusion for his successors: Forty years later Massmann took up the glove. He called the two manuscripts M1 (Munich 1) and M2, and in the mean time another manuscript (Cgm 2927) had appeared, which Massmann called M3. In addition there were two sources in Heidelberg: Cpg 314 and Heidelberg's block book, which Massmann designated H1 respectively H2.
But Massmann thought he had a fourth source in Munich, namely the text that Docen had published, and which Massmann now called M4: »Von Docen in N. Liter. Anzeiger 1806, S. 348-352 und 412-416 abgedruckt«.
Apparently Massmann has read the two articles in columns 348-352 and 412-416, but overlooked the intervening article, where Docen describes Xyl. 39 in detail, and tells his readers that he intends to use it to ameliorate the rest of the text in his next article. The result is that Massmann's "Ur-text" is of limited value.(2)
Read: the text from Cgm 270.
Footnotes: (1) (2)
This is in spite of the fact that Docen, as mentioned, did not publish anything from the second preacher.
In the same way, Massmann in eleven instances lists a variant for Death's speeches from M1, even though Death does not appear in Cpg 314.