FISCHART, JOHANN (c. 1545–1591), German satirist and publicist, was born, probably at Strassburg (but according to some accounts at Mainz), in or about the year 1545, and was educated at Worms in the house of Kaspar Scheid, whom in the preface to his Eulenspiegel he mentions as his “cousin and preceptor.” He appears to have travelled in Italy, the Netherlands, France and England, and on his return to have taken the degree of doctor juris at Basel. From 1575 to 1581, within which period most of his works were written, he lived with, and was probably associated in the business of, his sister’s husband, Bernhard Jobin, a printer at Strassburg, who published many of his books. In 1581 Fischart was attached, as advocate to the Reichskammergericht (imperial court of appeal) at Spires, and in 1583, when he married, was appointed Amtmann (magistrate) at Forbach near Saarbrücken. Here he died in the winter of 1590–1591. Fischart wrote under various feigned names, such as Mentzer, Menzer, Reznem, Huldrich Elloposkleros, Jesuwalt Pickhart, Winhold Alkofribas Wüstblutus, Ulrich Mansehr von Treubach, and Im Fischen Gilt’s Mischen; and it is partly owing to this fact that there is doubt whether some of the works attributed to him are really his. More than 50 satirical works, however, both in prose and verse, remain authentic, among which are—Nachtrab oder Nebelkräh (1570), a satire against one Jakob Rabe, who had become a convert to the Roman Catholic Church; Von St Dominici des Predigermönchs und St Francisci Barfüssers artlichem Leben (1571), a poem with the expressive motto “Sie haben Nasen riechen’s nit” (Ye have noses and smell it not), written to defend the Protestants against certain wicked accusations, one of which was that Luther held communion with the devil; Eulenspiegel Reimensweis (written 1571, published 1572); Aller Praktik Grossmutter (1572), after Rabelais’s Prognostication Pantagrueline; Flöh Haz, Weiber Traz (1573), in which he describes a battle between fleas and women; Affentheuerliche und ungeheuerliche Geschichtschrift vom Leben, Rhaten und Thaten der . . . Helden und Herren Grandgusier Gargantoa und Pantagruel, also after Rabelais (1575, and again under the modified title, Naupengeheurliche Geschichtklitterung, 1577); Neue künstliche Figuren biblischer Historien (1576); Anmahnung zur christlichen Kinderzucht (1576); Das glückhafft Schiff von Zürich (1576, republished 1828, with an introduction by the poet Ludwig Uhland), a poem commemorating the adventure of a company of Zürich arquebusiers, who sailed from their native town to Strassburg in one day, and brought, as a proof of this feat, a kettleful of Hirsebrei (millet), which had been cooked in Zürich, still warm into Strassburg, and intended to illustrate the proverb “perseverance overcomes all difficulties”; Podagrammisch Trostbüchlein (1577); Philosophisch Ehzuchtbüchlein (1578); the celebrated Bienenkorb des heiligen römischen Immenschwarms, &c., a modification of the Dutch De roomsche Byen-Korf, by Philipp Marnix of St Aldegonde, published in 1579 and reprinted in 1847; Der heilig Brotkorb (1580), after Calvin’s Traité des reliques; Das vierhörnige Jesuiterhütlein, a rhymed satire against the Jesuits (1580); and a number of smaller poems. To Fischart also have been attributed some “Psalmen und geistliche Lieder” which appeared in a Strassburg hymn-book of 1576.
Fischart had studied not only the ancient literatures, but also those of Italy, France, the Netherlands and England. He was a lawyer, a theologian, a satirist and the most powerful Protestant publicist of the counter-reformation period; in politics he was a republican. Above all, he is a master of language, and was indefatigable with his pen. His satire was levelled mercilessly at all perversities in the public and private life of his time—at astrological superstition, scholastic pedantry, ancestral pride, but especially at the papal dignity and the lives of the priesthood and the Jesuits. He indulged in the wildest witticisms, the most abandoned caricature; but all this he did with a serious purpose. As a poet, he is characterized by the eloquence and picturesqueness of his style and the symbolical language he employed. Thirty years after Fischart’s death his writings, once so popular, were almost entirely forgotten. Recalled to the public attention by Johann Jakob Bodmer and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, it is only recently that his works have come to be a subject of investigation, and his position in German literature to be fully understood.
Freiherr von Meusebach, whose valuable collection of Fischart’s works has passed into the possession of the royal library in Berlin, deals in his Fischartstudien (Halle, 1879) with the great satirist. Fischart’s poetical works were published by Hermann Kurz in three volumes (Leipzig, 1866–1868); and selections by K. Goedeke (Leipzig, 1800) and by A. Hauffen in Kürschner’s Deutsche Nationalliteratur (Stuttgart, 1893); Die Geschichtklitterung and some minor writings appeared in Scheible’s Kloster, vols. 7 and 10 (Stuttgart, 1847–1848). Das glückhafft Schiff has been frequently reprinted, critical edition by J. Baechtold (1880). See for further biographical details, Erich Schmidt in the Allgemeine deutsche Biographie, vol. 7; A. F. C. Vilmar in Ersch and Gruber’s Encyclopaedie; W. Wackernagel, Johann Fischart von Strassburg und Basels Anteil an ihm (2nd ed., Basel, 1875); P. Besson, Étude sur Jean Fischart (Paris, 1889); and A. Hauffen, “Fischart-Studien” (in Euphorion, 1896–1909).