Help me track down a quote from Martin Luther
April 1, 2009 10:05 AM   Subscribe

Help me find a quote from Martin Luther about humanity being a drunk man who falls off his horse on one side, and then gets back on and falls off the other side.

A quote from C. S. Lewis in "The World's Last Night":

"For my own part I hate and distrust reactions not only in religion but in everything. Luther surely spoke very good sense when he compared humanity to a drunkard who, after falling off his horse on the right, falls off it next time on the left. I am convinced that those who find in Christ's apocalyptic the whole of his message are mistaken. But a thing does not vanish—it is not even discred­ited—because someone has spoken of it with exaggeration. It remains exactly where it was. The only difference is that if it has recently been exaggerated, we must now take special care not to overlook it; for that is the side on which the drunk man is now most likely to fall off."

I would very much like to know where Martin Luther said this, and what the exact quote is. But Lewis doesn't cite it.

I did some heavy Googling and found another book that referenced Luther's horse analogy, called "Why Johnny Can't Tell Right from Wrong" by William Kilpatrick. He cites all of his sources very thoroughly, but Google Book Search decided to randomly leave out that page of the index from the book preview. So I bought the book (used), because I REALLY REALLY want to know where this came from – and of course... he doesn't cite that partular reference at all.

Can anyone track down this quote for me?
posted by relucent to Religion & Philosophy (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I found it referenced in the book "Martin Luther: A Life" on Google Books as well. Of course, not cited.
posted by General Malaise at 10:26 AM on April 1, 2009

"Human reason is like a drunken man on horseback; set it up on one side, and it tumbles over on the other."

As quoted by William Hazlitt in "ESSAY XV: On Paradox and Common-Place", from Table-talk, Essays On Men And Manners: " Or as Luther complained long ago, 'human reason is like a drunken man on horseback: set it up on one side, and it tumbles over on the other.'"

I don't know what it was in the original German, or its source.
posted by orthogonality at 10:26 AM on April 1, 2009

Response by poster: I should clarify that I don't need to go all the way back to the original German, I am just mainly interested in the context and the English 'gist'.
posted by relucent at 11:21 AM on April 1, 2009

Best answer: It is apparently from Luther's Table Talk, the German edition of which was first published in 1566. I am vexed to say that I haven't found the original German; however, it is cited as being on the 111th page of the 54th volume of the standard edition of Martin Luther's Werke. Unfortunately, searching German phrases gets me nowhere - a decent library would a place you could find the German if you really wanted it.

Anyhow, the text is, according to one rather flowery source whose name is actually "Preserved Smith," the product of

... the environment in which Luther and his guests conversed and of the men who noted down the sayings of the master. Each of these reporters was a source from whom others copied until practically all the sayings were united, after several stages of transcription, into great collections by various editors. We may compare the process of accumulation to that by which many springs pour their waters into the same great river, the original notebooks corresponding to the springs, the first copies to tributary streams, and the final editions to large rivers.

In short, these were the sayings of Martin Luther, as recorded by those close to him. (Sort of like the Koran, only without the divine inspiration and with a lot more anti-Jew.) They are thus quite brief, without much context, resembling epigrams. The one which you seek is given in translation and cited here:

The world is like a drunken peasant. If you lift him into the saddle on one side, he will fall off again on the other side. One can't help him, no matter how one tries. He wants to be the devil's. (TT 630, 1533. LW 54:111)

To translate that citation for you, this quote is from Table Talk #630 (probably recorded around 1533), which can be found in volume 54, page 111 of the Luther-Werke, Luther's works.
posted by koeselitz at 12:03 PM on April 1, 2009 [3 favorites]

You can see now why googling was tripping you (and me, for a long while) up: in this "horse analogy," Luther doesn't actually use the word 'horse' at all.
posted by koeselitz at 12:21 PM on April 1, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you! Google is great and all, but I would never have found it.
posted by relucent at 1:58 PM on April 1, 2009

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