The letters of John Hus/Preface


The translation of The Letters of Hus in the present volume, though both authors are jointly responsible for the form in which it is now presented, is almost wholly the work of Mr. Pope. The Life, Introductions, Collation of Texts, Chronological Arrangement, and Notes have been contributed by Mr. Workman, who is solely responsible for this portion of the book.

The Letters of Hus have never yet been adequately translated into English. The only extant translation is one by Mackenzie, published in Edinburgh in 1846. This is a rendering, not of the original, but of the French of Bonnechose’s edition of the Letters. Unfortunately Bonnechose’s work is based upon the very imperfect edition of 1568—Historia et Monumenta J. Hus et Hieron. Pragensis (also with different pagination and some additional matter, 1715).[1] No translation has hitherto been attempted from the text of Palackẏ, which is not only more complete but also has the merit of presenting the letters in their approximate chronological arrangement. In Bonnechose’s collection, where the order of the edition he used is strictly followed, early letters often come at the end, and the letters of the two captivities are sadly confused. Sometimes also simple expressions have proved a stumbling-block to Bonnechose, e.g., the word stubam (infra, p. 152). The Czech of his edition (Nuremberg, 1558), which is, so to speak, the Czech of Frankfort-atte-Bowe, is left severely alone; for no Palackẏ had as yet made it intelligible. An instance will be found on p. 206.

The text we have chiefly followed is the great edition of Palackẏ (Documenta Mag. Joannis Hus, vitam, doctrinam, causam in Constantiensi Concilio actam illustrantia Ed. Fr. Palackẏ: Regni Bohemiæ Historiographus, Prague, 1869)—usually cited by us in our notes as Doc., or, where questions of text are concerned, as P. The readings, however, that are to be found in Höfler’s Geschichtschreiber der husitischen Bewegung in Böhmen in the “Fontes rerum Austriacarum,” Vienna, 1865, 3 vols.)—cited as Höfler or H.—seem to us in some cases to be preferable. The two editions have been collated—so far, that is, as readings are concerned which would make an essential difference in translation. A few of these differences, as also a few of the readings of the Monumenta, are indicated in the notes. In spite of the severe criticism to which Palackẏ subjected the Geschichtschreiber in his Geschichte des Hussitenthums (1869), Höfler’s text is one of considerable value, and contains many letters that had not previously been published. For the translation of the few Czech letters, we have depended entirely on J. Kvičala’s Latin rendering in Palackẏ, carefully compared with Höfler’s German translation in the Geschichtschreiber.

The Letters of Hus present not a few difficulties to the translator. First of all, there is the nervousness, terseness, and rapidity of his style, especially in the letters of the Trial. Allusions which would be plain to his correspondents have often, by the lapse of time, become obscure. In such cases it is not easy to give a rendering which is intelligible, or which escapes the tendency to a loose paraphrase. In certain other cases Hus deliberately wrote obscurely in order to escape the consequences of the capture of his correspondence. Another difficulty, apart from the occasional corruptness of the text, arises from his Latinity. It goes without saying that the style lacks classical grace and correctness[2] and, as compared with the earlier mediæval writers such as Anselm or John of Salisbury, or such later curialists as Dietrich of Niem, it is full of pitfalls for the unwary. In our judgment, the Latin of Wyclif is the Latin of one who had ceased to think in that language; the Latin of Hus, though apparently more natural, is not that of a scholar, but is rather of the colloquial order, which tends to fall into a rugged and homely patois. There are also a few isolated words that, so far as we can discover, have escaped the notice of lexicographers. These we have indicated in the notes.

The constant quotations in the letters from the Fathers, the Vulgate, and other sources have given us no small difficulty. As regards the Vulgate, Hus differs very widely from the present Clementine-Sextine text. In the lack of data it has been impossible to decide to what extent the difference is due to a faulty memory, or to the use by Hus of manuscripts somewhat differing from the Paris recension that was the standard of his time. As a matter of fact, the quotations of Hus from the Scriptures are generally only verbally accurate in the few letters for which we must depend alone on the doctored text of the Monumenta or Epistolæ Piissimæ. In turning the Vulgate into English we have generally quoted the Douai-Rheims version.

The quotations from the Fathers have proved an even greater difficulty. Hus’s knowledge of these authors was not first hand, nor will the student deem it sufficient to indicate the original source. The question must always be faced, What was the connecting link between Hus and the original? Loserth, in his valuable monograph (Wyclif and Hus, 1884), established the deep dependence of Hus upon the great English Reformer. We are inclined to think that our notes will establish an equal dependence of Hus upon the great mediæval text-book, Gratian’s Decretum,[3] and in some cases where Loserth held that the Bohemian was copying the Englishman, we suspect that both were copying from Gratian. The tracking out of these quotations has involved hours of labour—how many hours can only be guessed by those who have attempted a similar task themselves. In the two or three cases where our toil has been useless, we must plead the excuse of Dr. Johnson, “Ignorance, madam, sheer ignorance,” urging in our defence, however, that Hus’s quotations themselves are sometimes so inaccurate that even others better qualified would not be without difficulty in marking their source.

The critic will note that whereas in his notes to the Letters Mr. Workman gives authorities for his statements, no authorities are given for any statements in the introductions. The reason for the difference is that this is an edition of the Letters, not a Life of Hus. We have only sketched such portions of the life of the great Bohemian Reformer as may be needful for the elucidation of the Letters. For the sources of any statements as to the life of Hus, or in connection with the Council of Constance, we must refer the reader to Mr. Workman’s Age of Hus,[4] and especially to the bibliographies it contains of both ancient and modern works.

In the chronological arrangement of the Letters we have in the main followed Palackẏ. In the cases where we have differed from him we have tried to indicate our reasons. In Appendix B the student will find tables adjusting the different numbering of the letters in this translation and in Palackẏ, and also giving the dates according to Palackẏ. In some cases, as the notes will show, the data for determining the chronology of a letter are very slight, often amounting to little more than a general impression impossible to put into words, and which possibly would appeal differently to different minds.

In lieu of an index we have provided a full table of Contents, and a tolerably complete system of cross references in the notes.

This edition of the Letters of Hus, though we trust it may be of some service to the more serious student, is intended primarily for the general reader. Our object is to make Hus himself, the man as he lived and laboured, more real; to present a portrait of the Reformer, such as letters alone can give, painted by the subject himself. Here and there the reader may possibly feel out of touch. He may complain that there is too much of the sound of a trumpet, the voice of words, and echoes of struggles long since dead. To some extent this is true of the letters written during the exile (Part III.). The reader approaching the study of Hus for the first time would, perhaps, do well to begin these Letters in the middle, with the journey to Constance (Part IV.), and read on to the final scene. We are much mistaken if, in this case, he will not receive such an interest in the author of that immortal series of letters written in prison, that he gladly turns back to the less fascinating, because more polemical, earlier portion. After all, a man’s death cannot be understood apart from his life; and the remarkable picture given us of Hus in the prison of the Inquisition at Constance ought not to be isolated from the rest. Only by the study of the whole of the letters can we understand the whole man in all his strength and tenderness, and, we may add, his weakness. We are not without hopes also that this fragment of soul-history—for such the last letters of Hus undoubtedly present to us—may commend itself to some, not merely from the narrower standpoint of history, but from the larger outlook of that unity and continuity of spiritual experience throughout all ages which, under different forms and in diverse manners, is yet the manifestation and working of the one Lord and Giver of Life.

Westminster, November 1903.

  1. This is the edition usually cited by us in the notes and elsewhere as Mon. or Monumenta. We give always the pagination of the 1558 edition, which will also be found in the margin of the 1715 edition. The text of the Monumenta is that used by all historians, including Neander, before Palackẏ. As the Monumenta incorporates the whole of the Epistolæ Piissimæ (infra, p. 2), we have not thought it needful to give the readings of this earlier and less complete edition.
  2. E.g., the use of se and sibi, the conjunctions quia and et (conjunctive and disjunctive), are a source of much perplexity to those unfamiliar with the Latinity of the later Middle Ages. For the Latin of Wyclif, see some excellent remarks by Dr. Poole, De Civ. Dom., i xviii.-xix.
  3. In our quotations in the notes we have always used the edition of Migne.
  4. The Dawn of the Reformation: vol. i, The Age of Wyclif; vol. ii., The Age of Hus.