Saturday, October 22, 2011

Luther's Drinking, Revisited: "You would do well to send me the whole cellar full of my wine"

Why did Luther write so strongly against those he opposed? Was it because he drank too much? Perhaps Luther fit the profile of the "angry drunk"? On A Roman Catholic website, I found the following Luther quote being cited as possible evidence of this: "you would do well to send me the whole cellar full of my wine." The  innuendo is that Luther's excessive drinking made him intolerant towards his enemies.

A link (to a secondary source) for "you would do well to send me the whole cellar full of my wine" was also provided by Luther's detractor: Luther, An historical portrait By J. Verres. Verres states,
Kostlin tries to make out that Luther was a very temperate man, and that his daily expense for drink was not more than a halfpenny. (120) If so, wine must have been enormously cheap in those days, considering that for that amount Luther was able to get more than did him good, though he was able to guzzle like a German".(121) As he liked a good dinner, (he said he meant to give to the worms a fat doctor to eat), (122) so he liked a good drink; the beer plays an important part in his letters to Kate. Here is a specimen: „Dear Master Kathe . . . Yesterday I took an evil drink (hatt ich ein bosen Trunk gefasset), I had to sing ... I thought, what good beer and wine I have at home, likewise a handsome wife, or — should I say — master. You would do well, to send me the whole cellar-full of my wine, and a bottle of your beer, as often as you can(123).

123) De Wette IV. Cfr. II. 310: E Principali cella bibimus vinum bonum et purum, et futuri essemus pulchri evangelici, si sic Evangelion nos saginaret .. . Exciisa nos apud Principem, quod tantum vini Cornbergici linxerimus. — Cfr. a letter to C. Muller (first published by Evers I.) „Das Bier ist gut, die magd schon und die Gesellen innig." This letter is signed:

Doctor Martinus
Doctor Luther
Doctor Plenus.
Dr. Verres was, you guessed it, a Roman Catholic writer (what are the odds?). His book came out in 1884 (he was apparently provoked by the celebration of Luther's 400th birthday in 1883). Some reviewers loved this book: The Irish Ecclesiastical Record, The Dublin Review, Catholic World. The work is one of a number of books from the 1800's to early 1900's from Roman Catholics claiming to present "the real Luther" hidden away by his Protestant defenders. Here, Verres presents Luther the alcoholic.

This letter is available in LW, along with a brief explanation from the LW editors (LW 50:79-80):
257 To Mrs. Martin Luther
[Dessau,] July 29, 1534
During the summer of 1534 Luther and some of his friends twice visited the court at Dessau in order to give spiritual counsel to the sovereign Joachim of Anhalt, who at that time was seriously ill and was experiencing great spiritual struggles. During his second visit to Dessau Luther wrote this personal note to his wife. He tells first of the pending return of Melanchthon, and of the necessity for his own continued stay in Dessau. Then he informs his wife that “yesterday” he drank something which did not agree with him, and asks his wife to send him his whole wine-cellar and some of her homebrewed beer, because otherwise the beer at Dessau, to which he is not accustomed, would make him totally unable to return home. He concludes by commending his household to God.
Text in German: WA, Br 7, 91.

To my kind, dear lord, Lady Catherine von Bora, Mrs. Doctor Luther, at Wittenberg

Grace and peace in Christ! Dear Sir Katie! I know of nothing to write to you since Master Philip, together with the others, is coming home. I have to remain here longer for the devout Sovereign’s sake. You might wonder how long I shall remain here, or how you might set me free. I think that Master Francis will set me free, just as I freed him—but not so soon.

Yesterday I drank something which did not agree with me, so that I had to sing: If I don’t drink well I have to suffer, and [yet] I do like to do it (11). I said to myself what good wine and beer I have at home, and also [what] a pretty lady or (should I say) lord. You would do well to ship the whole cellar full of my wine and a bottle of your beer (12) to me here, as soon as you are able; otherwise I will not be able to return home because of the new beer(13).
With this I commend you to God, together with our young ones and all the members of our household. Amen.

July 29, 1534
Your loving
Martin Luther, Doctor

11. It has been suggested that here Luther might have been thinking of a drinking song. The last portion of the sentence has been translated as literally as possible. The meaning of this clause is not clear, because the antecedent for “it” is unclear. Apparently Luther wanted to say that he enjoys a good drink but that he suffers when he has drunk poor wine or beer.

12. Luther’s wife brewed the beer for the family. Köstlin-Kawerau, 2, 491; Schwiebert, pp. 266, 594.

13.I.e., the beer of Dessau, to which Luther is not accustomed, might make Luther ill, so that he would not be able to return home.
There's no evidence at all from this quote that Luther was an angry drunk, or drunk at all. Further, I would posit, if Luther actually did write his harsh polemical treatises while intoxicated, he was very good at it. He was seemingly an extremely cogent "drunk," more often than not.

The most detailed look at Luther's drinking I've ever seen is found in Hartmann Grisar's Luther III. Grisar was a Roman Catholic scholar. His work is typically classified with the earlier Roman Catholic destructive criticism of Luther. He states, "Luther's enemies must resign themselves to abandon some of the proofs formerly adduced for his excessive addiction to drink." Grisar cites this very letter and comments:
4. In a letter to his wife, Luther says that he preferred the beer and wine he was used to at home to what he was having at Dessau, and "Yesterday I had some poor stuff to drink so that I had to begin singing: 'If I can't drink deep then I am sad, for a good deep drink ever makes me so glad".

It is quite unnecessary to take this as a song sung by a "tipsy man"; it is simply a jesting reference to a popular ditty which quite possibly he had actually struck up to get rid of his annoyance at the quality of the liquor. "You would do well," he continues in the same jocular vein, "to send me over the whole cellar full of my usual wine, and a bottle of your beer as often as you can, else I shall not turn up any more for the new brew."

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