Die vier Bücher von der Nachfolge Christi



The book I chose, while attending the Special collections section at D.H. Hill, is Die vier Buecher von der Nachfolge Christi, by Thomas von Kempen. When translated from German, though originally written in Latin– the title says, “The Four Books of Following Christ.” On one of the first few pages, Einhorn-Presse, Opus IVis written, which translates to “Unicorn Press, Work 4.” When first viewing the book, what drew me towards it was the intricate designs. The designs and text are all black and white with touches of red and plenty of detail and wide margins. Within that, I noticed many motifs that included elements from fish, unicorns, doves, vines/thorns, gothic architecture of buildings, and even wings as references to angels. All of these being symbols of religion pertaining mainly to Christianity. There was also a lot of bold, gothic, medieval font, one of which places emphasis on the first letter of every paragraph. The lettering seems to be an integral part to the decoration and is recognizable as an archaic gothic style font as it bears the elaborate swirls and the intermixing of the thin and thick line strokes that create a both dramatic and formal kind of effect. You rarely see this kind of lettering anymore, as it is definitely indicative of the time period in which it was originally written. The blind-stamping on the front cover and binding gives the hardback book texture against the neutral cream color. The pages are yellowed with frayed edges and slight tearing, but is otherwise in fairly good condition, as is the binding. It also has that musty antique shop smell. In addition, it is very large compared to the average book and appears very heavy to pick up. Pages appear to be made on what appeared to be canvas but are basically old laid paper that has been monogrammed and numbered, while also having a soft and fuzzy feel to them as they probably have been worn and expanded unevenly with time. And there is a fragility to the book as the pages are very thin. There are some light markings on the paper and binding and even some “foxing” which is a “distinct type of stain on paper, comprising a small reddish-brown spot surrounded by a lighter brown halo” (Publisher’s Bindings Online). The small bits of foxing, according to Publisher’s Bindings Online, is most likely from papermaking machinery due to specks of iron that can cause mold growth or degradation on pages.

The reason why this book would be special and important to keep by a Special Collections or a bibliophile is that each copy of this specific book is numbered, meaning there are limited editions of this book. With that in mind and how quickly one can be damaged or lost over time if a book is not properly cared for, this specific book could forever be gone if the initiative isn’t taken to collect and preserve it. Not only that but it is in a way a sort of historical record in times when people were fairly religious. The book would have also been valued for its text of religious devotion. People such as monks, nuns, etc. would have especially wanted it around as a result of this, as the book focuses on the “interior life and withdrawal from the world,” (Espín and Nickoloff). It is, in addition, regarded as a classic along the lines of religion and written anonymously — but authorship is commonly credited to Kempen who was a part of a religious movement called Devotio Moderna. This movement pushed for a renewal of the church in which members were currently dissatisfied with the state of it. They saw a loss of monastic traditions and moral values among the clergy and wished to rediscover what they considered to be genuine practices like “humility, obedience, and simplicity of life” (Revolvy). In book one, it states that the author should want to remain unknown as the true author did not want the reader’s view of the book to be influenced by their view of the writer. The book also immediately rose to popularity and became one of “the most widely read” Christian texts and most translated books “apart from the Bible,” another reason to valuableness (Miola).

This book is also included as the fourth part to a series of “spiritual instruction.” The first book is known as the Helpful Counsels of the Spiritual Life, the second being Directives for the Interior Life, the third issue as On Interior Life, and lastly the fourth is On the Blessed Sacrament. The text is pretty much a “compilation of single thoughts presented in the form of a handbook, organized according to various Christian aspects” (Kempen et al.). All of these have this format of dialogue that is between Jesus and the disciple, as the disciple is required to renounce all that they have and resign completely to God in order to be freed of sin. Public reception when released was overall positive as people had admired the book, read it while awaiting executions, carried it around with them at all times, and accredited with contributing to their conversions. Otherwise, it was criticized for radical renunciation of the materialistic world, harsh asceticism, and the Eternal-Feminine which was the idealistic concept of women, focusing on core differences between the two sexes.

Before 1650 there were about “750 extant manuscripts of the Imitation” (Tylenda). The book was later printed in Berlin from 1914 to 1922 by Otto V. Holten. Melchior Lechter was both the founder of the Einhorn-press and designer for the book. The book was also featured in a “publisher’s original 1922 Christmas advertisement and two invitations to special exhibitions of the publishing house in 1921 and 1925” (Kempen et al.). In the end, this book has had quite the influence in history, especially when concerned with the religious aspects of people’s lives and the basic foundation to a movement that tried reforming a church that was thought to be corrupt by those within it, and, in addition, illustrations along with text that shows insight to a time once prevalent in.



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