The Parish Clerk

Parish clerk
The parish clerk

Thomas Nugent promotes the parish clerk to church warden, but this is rather unfounded. The picture and text show that he is charged with opening and closing the church: »Whatever locks you hold or keys«.

Incidentally, there was a church warden in Des Dodes Dantz, but not a clerk. In Dodendantz and Copenhagen's dance of death neither of the two appear.

Ludewig SuhlThomas Nugent

    der Tod
Den Schlüssel den man dir zur Kirch und Altar gab,
Schleust meinen Schluß nicht auf, bereite nur dein Grab,
Nichts hilft das Uhrwerk dir, in meinen Zeitregister
Da heist es: fort du seyst der Kayser oder Küster.

    XXXVI. Death to the Churchwarden.
Whatever locks you hold or keys,
They'll never turn back my decrees ;
Nor all the clock-work that you have,
Will keep your body from the grave;
And though I am sometimes a hobbler,
I'm sure to king as well as cobler.


    der Küster
Da man am Gotteshaus zum Hüter mich erwählt,
Hab ich die Zeit und Stund am Uhrwerk abgezählt;
An diesen will mir nun der Tod den Abschied weisen,
Drum muß ich zu dem Dienst der ewgen Hütten reisen.

    XXXVII. The Churchwarden's answer.
Being appointed by the people,
To keep the clock-work, church and steeple,
I took what care was in my pow'r;
But since I'm come to my last hour,
Transfer me, Death, to heav'n most fair ;
I shan't be out of office there.

The parish clerk is the dialogue with the greatest differences. And those books that are oldest, and which were written respectively by the author himself, Nathanael Schlott, and by the vicar who had his day-to-day work in the church, Jacob von Melle, are those who deviate the most.

Schlott and Melle have a verse where the first three lines are totally different from Ludewig Suhl's. I quote from Schlott's 1702-publication:

Der Tod.
DU siehest/ wie mich däucht/ recht miserable auß/
Doch diß bewegt mich nicht: bestelle nur dein Hauß:(1)
Steht jemand oben an in meinem Zeit-Register/
So heißt es: Fort Du seyst der Käyser oder Küster.

When it comes to the clerk's response, Melle has the same verse as the other sources, but Schlott once again has a verse which is totally different from the others'. Again I quote from Schlott's 1702-publication:

Der Küster.
DEs Höchsten Knecht hat mich zu seinem Knecht erwehlt/
So stund ich oben an/ wenn man von unten zählt:
Jetzt miethet mich der Tod mit Schrecken-vollen Minen;
Herr Pastor/ lebet wohl! Ich kan nicht zweyen dienen.(2)

The text of the painting.
The painting

If we compare with the painting itself (picture to the right), we see the more recent sources like Wilhelm Mantels are right. With the exception of a few orthographic details (drüm/drum, Kayser/Kaÿser, heist/heiset), Mantels' text is correct. This means that even if Schlott is the author, his own book, which was published the same year that the painting was finished has almost nothing in common with the real text (for these two verses).

One might suggest that the painting had been altered during the 164 years that separate Schlott's and Mantels' books, but this is contradicted by Jakob von Melle, the pastor who had his daily work in the church. His text generally follow the books of Schlott, like he does in case of Death's call to the clerk,

When it comes to the clerk's answer, von Melle has chosen to follow the painting. but in his hand-written »Ausführliche Beschreibung der […] Stadt Lübeck« (page 194) he adds that there is another text in "the printed copies": »Im gedruckten exemplar stehet«, and then he quotes the version of the clerk's answer that is written in Schlott's book.

It is somehow ironic: The last words of the clerk are a farewell to his pastor: »Herr Pastor/ lebet wol!«, but precisely in this case, pastor von Melle has chosen to follow another source.

Footnotes: (1) (2)

Set thine house in order . . .: Isaiah says to King Hezekiah — both in 2nd Kings 20:1 and in Isaiah 38:1, »Thus saith the LORD, Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live«.

There is also 2nd Samuel 17:23, »Ahithophel […] put his household in order, and hanged himself, and died […]«

not serve two . . .: From The Sermon on the Mount: »No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; [...]« (Matthew 6:24, also Luke 16:13).