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Plague Victims being Blesses

Plague Victims being blessed, James Le Palmer, London (1360 -1375) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)*

*See Images

One morning, this song appeared on YouTube. So I wrote a post, but later the song was  removed. I have therefore modified my post by inserting a new video that contains instrumental variations of the song, composed by Johann Nepomuk Hummel (14 November 1778 – 17 October 1837). We no longer hear the lyrics of Ach, du lieber Augustin but the melody still brings to mind part of my childhood. It was a Proustien (Marcel Proust) experience. The song had the same effect on me as Madeleines, French pastry dipped in teach had for Proust. My experience will not yield a literary masterpiece. Proust (10 July 1871 – 18 November 1922) wrote In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past (À la recherche du temps perdu), a form of anamnesis (recollection) published between 1913 and 1927.


After World War II, many Europeans migrated to Canada and several French-speaking immigrants settled in Quebec. Somehow, my parents met a Belgian couple whose life became inextricably linked with ours. Henri and Mariette were closer to us than most of our relatives.

Henri was a jeweller and Mariette had been the wardrobe mistress for the Brussels Opera (called La Monnaie [the mint]). While my father had long conversations with Henri, my mother and Mariette sat together talking away as they did needlework and sewed. Mariette often designed and sewed clothes for us, frequently using fabric reclaimed from larger garments. As a student, I also designed and sewed clothes using reclaimed fabric. I then thought I was wearing inferior garments, but I have changed my mind. These garments were one-of-a-kind ‘designer clothes.’

Henri and Mariette both spoke French, but Mariette knew several languages, one of which was German. She therefore endeavoured to teach me little sentences in German as well as songs, one of which was the very well-known “Oh, du lieber Augustin” (Oh, you dear Augustin) or Ach, du lieber Augustin.  Mariette did tell me that it was and was not a  children’s song.  How confusing!  But she was right. “Du lieber Augustin” sounds like a children’s song, but it is about the plague. It laughs away the plague, so it is not a memento mori (remember your own mortality), good medicine for absolute monarchs.

The Plague

I am not taking us back to one of the worst pandemics in history, which took place between 1346 – 1353. It was called the Black Death and killed 6 to 7 persons out of 10, perhaps more, perhaps less. According to Wikipedia, the plague usually kills two-thirds of its victims within four days. (See Bubonic plague, Wikipedia.)

The Bubonic Plague is a zoonotic disease because it is transmitted from one species, fleas, Oriental rat fleas, to another species: human beings. The pathogen is Yersinia pestis, a bacterium. The 1346 – 1353 pandemic travelled the Silk Road. There were flea–infested rats on merchant ships. The bacterium entered the skin and then traveled through the lymphatics system.The patient developed buboes, from βουβών, the Greek word for “groin,” hence the name Bubonic plague. It caused swelling in the groin and the arm pits (For pictures, see Rare diseases, Wikipedia.)

There were many epidemics of the plague, one of which took the lives of the Limburg Brothers, the miniaturists who had been commissioned, by Jean de France, duc de Berry to illuminate his Très Riches Heures de Jean de France, duc de Berry. The Limburg brothers died in 1416, as did Jean de France. Plague epidemics lasted up to the beginning of the  19th  century.

Oh, du lieber Augustin

The song “Oh, du lieber Augustin,” was composed by Marx Augustin who sang ballads, played the bagpipes and was called ‘dear Augustin.’ Marx Augustin passed away during the Great Vienna Plague, which occurred in 1679. He was asleep and seemed dead. So he was thrown in a pit with the corpses if victims  of the plague. Marx Augustin had been a professional entertainer. Therefore, when he woke up, he decided to die as he had lived, composing and singing a ballad. The Wikipedia translations of Oh, du lieber Augustin (just click) differ from the German-language original. However, let us listen to the melody.

Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778 – 1837) – Variations for orchestra on Marx Augustin’s song “Oh, du lieber Augustin” in C major, S 47 (WoO 2).
St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna by Rudolf von Alt, 1834, © Wien Museum

Du lieber Augustin

Der lieber Augustin (Austrian stamp)

Oh, du lieber Augustin

Oh, du lieber Augustin, Augustin, Augustin,
Oh, du lieber Augustin, alles ist hin.
Geld ist weg, Mensch ist weg,
Alles hin, Augustin.
Oh, du lieber Augustin,
Alles ist hin.
1. Money‘s gone, girlfriend’s gone,/ All is lost, Augustin!/ Oh, you dear Augustin./
All is lost! 
Rock ist weg, Stock ist weg,
Augustin liegt im Dreck,
Oh, du lieber Augustin,
Alles ist hin.
2. Coat is gone, staff is gone,/ Augustin lies in the dirt./ Oh, you dear Augustin,/
All is lost!
Und selbst das reiche Wien,        
Hin ist’s wie Augustin;
Weint mit mir im gleichen Sinn,
Alles ist hin!
3. Even that rich town Vienna,/ Broke is like Augustin;/ Shed tears with thoughts akin,/ All is lost!
Jeder Tag war ein Fest,
Und was jetzt? Pest, die Pest!
Nur ein groß’ Leichenfest,
Das ist der Rest.
4. Every day was a feast,/ Now we just have the plague!/ Just a great corpse’s feast,/
That is the rest.
Augustin, Augustin,
Leg’ nur ins Grab dich hin!
Oh, du lieber Augustin,
Alles ist hin!
5. Augustin, Augustin,/ Lay down in your grave!/ Oh, you dear Augustin,/ All is lost!
Related Article

(please lick on the pictures to enlarge them)

Pieter Bruegel's The Triumph of Death (c. 1562) reflects the social upheaval and terror that followed the plague which devastated medieval Europe

Pieter Bruegel‘s The Triumph of Death (c. 1562) reflects the social upheaval and terror that followed the plague which devastated medieval Europe

© Micheline Walker
7 January 2013