THREE BEHAIM BOYS: Growing Up in Early Modern Germany by Steven--Ed. Ozment
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THREE BEHAIM BOYS: Growing Up in Early Modern Germany

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Historian Ozment (The Age of Reform, 1980, etc.) now offers a fascinating compilation of letters from three members of the same German family, written between 1523 and 1638. Drawn from the archives of Nuremberg's German National Museum, the epistles were all penned by young men in their teens and 20s. Each correspondent reveals his own well-defined personality, however, and the final result is a research work of varied and wide-ranging interest. The earliest letters are those of Michael V. Behaim, a young man determined to make a place for himself in the mercantile world of 16th-century Germany. His letters are taken up for the most part with details of various financial arrangements--debts owed, rents, legal squabbles with his mother and stepfather. Scattered throughout are intriguing insights into the merchant apprenticeship system, fears of the plague that raged in various cities at the time, attitudes toward marriage (Michael wed advantageously in 1533, though his family considered the bride beneath him). The second group of letters date between 1578 and 1582, when Freidrich VIII Behaim was a student at the Altdorf Academy and later when he was visiting Italy. Most of the letters are addressed to his mother; the presence of many of her replies makes this an especially interesting group. It's surprising how contemporaneous these letters seem; filled with requests for money, arrangements for having laundry done, and appeals for food parcels, many could have been penned by a prep-school student of today. The final selections--perhaps the most involving--are the letters of Stephen Carl Behaim, a ne'er-do-well son of the slightly autocratic Lucas Friedrich Behaim. Stephen Carl is perpetually in trouble, first in school, later in the army, and finally as an adventurer in far-off Brazil. While it's true the young man was a drunkard and a brawler, a cheat and an opportunist, he becomes sympathetic as he pleads for understanding and vows to mend his ways--a hope dashed when he sadly dies, at age 25, in the Dutch Wars in South America. A splendidly researched, stylishly and clearly annotated, crisply translated, ultimately satisfying work of scholarship.

Pub Date: May 16th, 1990
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press