man. He flourished 1295-1366 in South-West Germany.
In case this
weary observation of his may suggest the mind of a misanthrope, he wasn't!
Here it is in context.
Suso well knew what a positive difference it makes to hear live testimony
as distinct from words in a book, and this regretful simile was his way
of emphasising that truth. It comes in the last paragraph of the Prologue
to his Little Book of Eternal Wisdom:
thing you must know: Just as there is no comparison between actually
hearing the sound of harp-strings sweetly plucked and listening to somebody
talk about it, so too there is no comparison between words which are
received in pure grace, issuing from a living heart, spoken by living
lips, and those self-same words committed to dry parchment – especially
words in German. For these somehow grow chill, losing their vitality
like roses cut. For the enchanting melody which, more than anything
else, moves human hearts, then fades away, so that the words are now
received into the dryness of dry hearts. No harp-strings were ever so
sweet but, when stretched across dry timber, they fall silent.
An unloving heart can no more understand a love-filled
speaker than a German an Italian.
Therefore, an eager enquirer should hasten to
the out-flowing streams of these sweet teachings so that s/he may see
and observe them at their source in all its living and wondrous beauty
– that is, the in-flowing of present grace which is able to restore
dead hearts to life.
simile also provided the theme for a paper delivered to the International
Medieval Congress in July 2003: wâ
sint diu werc? – The power of Suso’s love-filled tongue to sway unloving
For an account
of Suso's Horologium Sapientiae ("Computer of Wisdom")
writings are available in a fine modern English translation:
Frank Tobin, Henry Suso. The Exemplar, with two
German sermons, New York, 1989.