Wittenberg: Johann Rhau-Grunenberg, 1517.
1st Edition. Soft cover. 4to - over 9¾ - 12" tall. Very Good. Item #003180
4to (208 x 155 mm). 46 unnumbered leaves. Signatures: A4 B-H6 (H6 blank). Colophon on H5v reads "Gedruckt tzu Wittenbergk yn der Churfurstlichen stad durch Joannem Grunenbergk Nach Christ geburt Tausent funffhundert und im sibentzen jar. Bey den Augustinern." Bound in 18th century xylographic wrappers (light soiling). Text evenly browned, occasional minor, mostly marginal, spotting and dust soiling, fol. C6r with brown staining; one wormhole running all through (affecting some letters of text), and a few further at blank margins. Ink annotation in contemporary hand on title-page and fol. D6v. Provenance: form a Hungarian private collection; no library stamps (including erased stamps) or other ownership entries present. A very good, wide-margined copy. ----
"No book, no Reformation" (Bernd Moeller). IMPOSSIBLY RARE FIRST EDITION, ISSUE B, of Martin Luther's first original publication, Die sieben Busspsalmen (the seven penitential psalms), which appeared in the spring of 1517, about half a year before the nailing of his 95 Theses on a church door at Wittenberg. Only a handful of copies are known to exist (see further below).
Before autumn 1517, Martin Luther was not much more than a rather obscure Augustinian friar and preacher in a small German town, but his 95 Theses, in which he vigorously objected to the corrupt practice of the Roman Catholic Church of selling indulgences to absolve sin, changed the world and became the foundation of the Protestant Revolution. Luther intended his 95 Theses, which were written in Latin and in a remarkably humble and academic tone, rather as the basis of a scholarly disputation. No copies of a Wittenberg printing have survived, which is not surprising as Luther was not famous and the importance of the document was not recognized at that time.
When Luther posted his Theses, it is likely that no one would have noticed, if not for the press. Luther used the press so well because he knew his audience and used the language of the common people. It was this vernacular and not the Latin that he learned to use in his street orations, and he naturally turned to the vernacular for his message to his German colleagues as he sought a way to embody his new theology. And it was his use of the printing press to get that vernacular message out quickly and effectively that made the difference... (M. McIntosh-Doty).
Die sieben Busspsalmen is the first of Luther's biblical commentaries and translations into German vernacular, published just before he changed his name from Luder to Luther. Bluhm notes that it was probably written in January and/or February, 1517, perhaps even in the last months of 1516 according to a letter of Luther to Lang dated March 1, 1517 (Bluhm, p.103). The New Testament epistle of Romans and Israel's Old Testament book of psalms were the two that Luther was predominantly studying and teaching as professor of biblical studies at Wittenberg University in the years preceding his posting of the Theses. "It was these two books of Scripture that radically affected Luther and changed the course of human history. While Romans would principally formulate his doctrine, it was the Psalms that dramatically emboldened him to proclaim God's message to the world. In other words, Romans gave Luther his theology, but it was the Psalms that gave him his thunder. The Psalms gave Luther a towering view of God, so much so that in preaching the gospel, he was ready to fight the devil himself. In so doing, these two biblical books laid the scriptural foundation for the Protestant Reformation." (Steven J. Lawson, Preaching the Psalms, 2012).
The success of Luther's Busspsalmen was instantaneous and widespread. His "searching analysis of the human situation made a deep impression upon the many readers who, like the author's superior in the Augustinian order, gave the slender volume an enthusiastic reception. It is important to bear in mind that the book, besides stirring Luther's scholarly friends as well as the learned in general rather more than he himself had anticipated, found immediate favor also with the 'common man' for whom it had primarily been written. There is no exaggeration in the claim that Luther's earliest publication straightway established him as one of the most widely read writers in the German tongue: his unparalleled success as an author can safely be said to have begun with the very first book he ever put out. The popular demand for 'Die sieben Busspsalmen' reached such proportions that the second printing was already underway before the first had been completely finished. The book then went through a number of editions both regular and pirated: Wittenberg, Leipzig, Strassburg, and Erfurt printers published it between 1517 and 1525." (Bluhm, p.103).
Georg Wolfgang Panzer, already in 1783, noted the great rarity of this book and held it in high esteem. (Panzer, p.2). We know of two issues of the first edition. One issue (B, Benzing 75, ours) with year "1517" in the sixth line of the title, the other (A, Benzing 74) without the year in the title, with the first 3 lines in larger font size and the signature "F. Martinus Luder Augustiner zu Wittenberg" in the preface on verso additionally dated 1517. The setting of the text in our copy is identical to issue A for the gatherings B to H. Text and setting of the first gathering A differs slightly and thus has been reset in one of the two issues. Since we do not see any difference in paper stock and water-marking of the 4 leaves of gathering A and the subsequent 42 leaves of gatherings B to H in our copy, we cannot say with safety whether gathering A in our issue B or that in issue A was reset. We weren't able to find reliable information in bibliographic literature that proofs any printing priority for the two Wittenberg issues. Panzer argues that the issue he owns has an "F" (for Frater) in Luther's preface signature whereas the Palm copy he refers to has a "D" (for Doctor) instead, and because his three later editions at hand also have the "F", the issue with the "D" must be the first and those with the "F" must be the second printing (or edition). Digitized copies of both issues we found online however all have the "F" in Luther's signature. Thus, we do not know which issue Panzer refers to. Because of the identical type setting of the main text, it would be completely unjustified to call any of the two Wittenberg issues a first or a second edition anyway.
The rarity of this work is attested by the sales record: we were unable to find any copy of the first edition at auction and only traced a single record in an old antiquarian sales catalogue of 1895 (Ludwig Rosenthal Antiquariat München, Katalog 85). OCLC records no copy of our issue B in public libraries outside Germany and France (Paris BNF) and only a single copy of issue A in the US (The Morgan Library, NY). VD16 lists 5 locations (all Germany) of issue A and only one for issue B (Martin Luther University Halle).
Literature: Benzing, Lutherbibliographie, 75 and p. 440, Benzing/Claus II.; VD16 B 3483; Luthers Werke (Weimarer Ausgabe) Bd. 1, p. 155:B; Panzer, Entwurf einer vollständigen Geschichte der deutschen Bibelübersetzung D. Martin Luthers, 1783, p.2.; H. Bluhm, Luther's view of man in his first published work, The Harvard Theological Review, Vol. 41, No. 2, 1948, pp. 103-122. D. Ngien, Fruit for the Soul: Luther on the Lament Psalms, Augsburg Fortress, Publishers, 2015; Mikail McIntosh-Doty, Luther and the Printing Press. Concordia University Texas, online resources. - Visit our website for additional images and further reading!
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