A glance at Zurich’s Facebook of 1608: Über Leben und Werk des Johann Wilhelm Stucki (About the life and the work of Johann Wilhelm Stucki)

Published in 1608 by Johannes Wolf, Zurich

Portrait of the theologian and orientalist Kaspar Waser from Zurich (1565-1625), who gave the funeral speech in honour of Stucki and who presumably oversaw the publication.

Actually, it is not a book, but a booklet, that Johannes Wolf printed in 1608 on the occasion of Johann Wilhelm Stucki’s death. It comprises only five sheets, i.e. 80 pages and a front cover. The content is – how unfriendly towards the modern reader – mostly written in Latin – with some sprinklings of Greek and Hebrew and single texts in French an Italian. And that is already a message. It tells everyone, who can get his or her hands on the booklet, that the deceased Johann Wilhelm Stucki was a learned man and had erudite friends all over Europe.

Johann Wilhelm Stucki (1521-1607), the person we are talking about in this article, is more or less forgotten by now. He does not even have his own Wikipedia article. If you want to know something about him, you have to consult scientific encyclopaedias. At his time, however, the theologian from Zurich was one of the most important persons of the intellectual world. He communicated with scholars all over Europe. And to these friends, it was important to set him and his friendship a literary monument after his death.

Since the 16th century, this had been common practice in Protestant regions. And a little later, the erudite followers of Zwingli and Calvin also got printed funeral speeches. Yes, even the Catholics adopted this flattering custom. Anyone with a circle of well-educated friends could hope for a small publication. More than 300,000 (!) funeral sermons were printed in the German-speaking area between the 16th and the 18th century.

Those publications comprised a text that was supposed to comfort family members and give inspiring thoughts to the readers. For modern historiography, the most important part is the description of the life, the achievements and the personality of the deceased. The fact that the deceased person is always presented in a rather good light might be due to the nature of this literary genre.

The funeral sermon in honour of Johann Wilhelm Stucki was written by his friend Kaspar Waser, the theologian and orientalist from Zurich. Unlike his friend, he has his own Wikipedia article (unfortunately only in French and German) – probably because he was not only an important local politician, but because he continued the chronicle of Johannes Stumpf. He peppered his speech – written in excellent Latin – with quotations in Greek and Hebrew to show his outstanding literacy and to honour Stucki.

 

Almost more important than the funeral speech itself were the texts written by others in honour of the deceased. The reason is that they reveal the status of the deceased person in the scholarly world. Some examples: the theologian Johann Jakob Grynaeus from Basel published a letter expressing his appreciation for Stucki. The dean of the faculty of philosophy in Heidelberg composed a poem in Greek. The court chaplain and a privy councillor of the elector Palatine contributed a poem, and scholars from St. Gallen, Schaffhausen and of course from Zurich did the same. There were contributions from Italy in Italian, from St. Gallen in French and, last but not least, a text written by Kaspar Waser himself in excellent Hebrew.

Let us put an end to this list. Today, the names of Mr. Stucki’s friends tell us very little. But they tell us one thing: whether it be in 1600 or today, the social status of a human being is defined most of all by his network of friends. And whether they decorate his pictures with a “like” or honour him with a 10-page-long funeral speech – the message is the same: this is a person appreciated and esteemed by others.

However, a “like” is much less work.

Oh yes, there is something else. Our booklet was so thin that it was obviously not possible to put it in the library like that. It was bound together with many other booklets. If you have read The Name of the Rose, you know what to imagine…

If you would like to leaf through the entire booklet, please visit the website of the ZB Zurich.

You can find all the scholars named here in the Historisches Lexikon der Schweiz (articles available in German, Italian and French).

Here, you can directly access the entry about Johann Wilhelm Stucki.