The Child

The child

Ludewig SuhlThomas Nugent

    der Tod
Nim zarter Säugling an den frühen Sensenschlag
Und schlaf hernach getrost bis an den Iüngstentag.
Wohl dem, der so wie du fällt in des Todes Hände,
So kröhnt den Anfang dann so ein beglücktes Ende.

    XLVIII. Death to the Infant:
Thus, tender suckling, I must give
The untimely stroke, no longer live;
Sleep undisturb'd till the last day,
When Christ shall change thy mass of clay,
Like his most glorious body dear,
Give thee a heavenly crown to wear:
Ah ! happy they beyond expression,
Who've paradise for their possession.


    Das Wiegenkind
Weinen ist meine erste Stimm,
Mit Weinen war ich gebohren,
Mit Weinen trägt man mich wieder dahin,
Den Würmern zur Speis erkohren.

    XLIX. The Infant's answer.
Crying, indeed, was my first voice,
But now I've cause for to rejoice;
Bear me, ye angels, to my God,
I've 'scap'd both sin, death, hell, and rod.(1)

The child didn't have any speech in the painting.
The text on the painting

Suhl has some variants in the text, which he shares with Jacob von Melle and Nathanael Schlott, but which are contradicted by later sources (and by the painting itself).

    Und schlaf hernach getrost vergnügt bis an den Iüngstentag.
    Wohl dem, der so wie du zeitig fällt in des Todes meine dürren Hände,

In Death's last line Suhl deviates from all other sources:

    So kröhnt den Anfang dann so schon ein beglücktes hochbeglücktes Ende.

As the picture to the left shows, the voiceless child did not have a speaking part. In La Danse Macabre of Paris the child paradoxically says that it doesn't know how to speak: »A. a. a. ie ne scay parler«, but in Lübeck there is no text at all. Below the cradle was just the date of the new painting: »Anno 1701 im May«.

The different book publishers must have felt a need for a proper finale, so in his book from 1701, Schlott writes: »WEinen ist meine Stimme gewest. Sap. VII,3«. This is a quote from the Wisdom of Solomon 7:3: »And when I was born, I drew in the common air, and fell upon the earth, which is of like nature, and the first voice which I uttered was crying, as all others do«.

Pastor Melle was more versed in the Bible and added the missing word, "erste": »Weinen ist meine erste Stimme gewest. Sap. 7/3.«. Nugent apparently used a similar source that included this word: »Crying, indeed, was my first voice«.

Suhl invents a verse for the child. Another mistake is that the cradle doesn't have any rockers.
Suhl's text

The record goes to Suhl (pictures above and to the right), who allocated a full verse with four lines to the child (quoted above).

These four lines, which we see neither in the painting nor in Schlott's own publications, are in fact a good deal older than Schlott. They go back to at least 1625, and they appear both as a separate quote and as a verse in the hymn "Ich weiss mir ein ewig's Himmelreich" (I know (for me) an eternal heavenly kingdom).

Schlott's new dance of death wasn't popular. In "Bücherkunde der sassisch-niederdeutschen Sprache", 1826, Karl Friedrich A. Scheller compares the old Low German verses with Schlott's text from 1701. His verdict is: "The remnants of the Saxon verses reveal a healthy, unrestrained, somewhat biting wit, and the language has purity and dignity. Schlott gives us instead rigid, quirky wares, or in fact nothing at all".(2)

Scheller goes on to quote the two verses that popular legend has added to the child in the old text: »O Dot, wo schal ik dat vorstan?« and then »Das (Schlottsche) Wiegenkind«, which are the four lines we have just discussed. Based on this, Scheller concludes: "Could not this old poem have been made complete? Not even if Mr. Nathanael Schlott were washed away or scraped off gently during a new restauration? I for my part would do it, also if no Saxon letters were any longer to be found under them".(3)

Scheller was willing to remove Schlott's text from the painting whether or not the old text was to be found beneath. Apparently he was not aware that the painting was a new copy created by Anton Wortmann. And Scheller based his arguments on comparing 2 lines, that probably never were to be found on the old painting, with four lines, that aren't fond on the painting either, that Schlott had nothing to do with, and which had been written long before Schlott was born.

Footnotes: (1) (2) (3)

sin, death, hell, and rod.....: Smart kid! It seems like he's quoting Proverbs 23:13-14, "Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. ".
Karl Friedrich A. Scheller: »Die Überbleibsel der Sassischen Verse verrathen einen gesunden, ungezwungenen, etwas beißigen Witz, und die Sprache hat Reinheit und Würde. Schlott giebt uns dafür steife, verschrobene Waare, oder eigentlich gar nichts«.
(Bücherkunde der sassisch-niederdeutschen Sprache, 1826, page 76)
Karl Friedrich A. Scheller: Sollte dies alte Gedicht denn gar nicht zu ergänzen sein? Auch nicht, wenn bei einer neuen Auffrischung Herr Nathanael Schlott weggewaschen oder behutsam abgeschabt würde? Ich meines Theils würde es thun, und wenn auch kein Sassischer Buchstabe mehr darunter zu finden wäre.
(Bücherkunde der sassisch-niederdeutschen Sprache, 1826, page 76)