An autobiography of martin kemnitz

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Translated from the German and Latin.

In thy name, sweet Jesus. Amen. In order that my children and descendants, if they so desire, may have some knowledge of my origin and how wonderfully and graciously the good God has guided me all the days of my life, I have drawn this brief sketch, that it should remain with my children in this little book. Commenced Anno Domini 1570.

Martinus Kemnitius, D.

m. pp.

There was in the Old Mark an honorable, ancient family of Kemnitzes, some of whom, prominent and wealthy people, are at this time living at Prietzwald. Now it so happened, as I am told, that my great grandfather was married at Brandenburg and had a son, Claus Kemnitz by name. But my great grandfather died early, and the widow, my great grandmother, married another man, of the honorable lineage of the Schülers, of Brandenburg. Of this Schüler and my great grandmother Balthasar Schüler was a son, who was afterwards Burgomaster in the old town of Brandenburg and held in high esteem by the Elector of Brandenburg. I saw him when I was yet quite young, as he was being appointed my guardian. His sons were George Schüler, who became an excellent poet and orator, and was named Georgius Sabinus, and his brother Andreas Schüler, who is at the present time Burgomaster in the old town of Brandenburg. . . . The said Balthasar Schüler had a sister, who was married at Brücke in the Electorate of Saxony to a man by the name of Berkaw, from whom the present Berkaws are descended. [[@Page:473]]

My grandfather, Claus Kemnitz, married at Brandenburg. But it so happened that the said Claus Kemnitz, on account of some legal matters, as I notice from some old letters, removed his residence from Brandenburg and settled in the confines of the Mark and Electorate of Saxony, at Britzen, a small town which, because of the faith once upon a time kept to the Margrave of Brandenburg when nearly the whole Mark had seceded to another man who purported to be the Margrave while the latter had traveled to the Holy Land, merited from the Electors of Brandenburg themselves the name by which it is called and written TreuenBritzen. At this place my grandfather, as was there customary, traded in flax, fish, etc. He had a daughter who afterwards married an inn-keeper, Thomas Bautz. Another child of the said Claus Kemnitz was my father, Paul Kemnitz, who took up his father’s trade and, besides, became a cloth-maker. He married a daughter of a pious man, Donat Koldeborn, of whose family there are still some members living at Jüterbock. With his wife, Euphemia, he had three children, Matthew, Ursula, and Martin. Ursula died a virgin in 1548. Matthew at first did so well in his household affairs and his trade in cloths, that he was praised and cherished by every one. But when the mother would not permit him to marry a girl he loved, and he was constrained to take another, with whom he did not fare very well, he drifted into a wild and wayward life and squandered nearly all he had. Thereupon he contracted a deplorable malady and died a miserable death, Anno 1564, leaving a son named Martin.

My father died early, about 1533; my mother died A. D. 1566.

My History.

Among my mother’s three children I was the youngest. As far as I could gather from my mother and some other women, I was born on Nov. 9, A. D. 1522, and named Martinus on account of the feast. Later on, when I pursued [[@Page:474]]mathematical studies, by comparison with certain events I figured out that my birth had taken place A. D. 1522, on the 9th day of November, at 47 minutes after 12 P. M.

There was, in my youth, a schoolmaster, Laurentius Barthold by name, a good and industrious man, not very proficient in letters and learning, but naturally eloquent, and for this talent he was later on called to the court of the Elector of Brandenburg and finally became a pastor in the church of my native city. Of him my mother often said that he had from my childhood observed a peculiar ingenium in me, and had always advised her to keep me to school, as I always learned more than my allotted task.

I well remember a peculiar accident which occurred upon a time. I had been at my grandfather’s house and my way led across a small brooklet which flowed through the town. But I made a mistake and fell in, and though I suffered no bodily injury—for the neighbors soon rescued me — the fright affected me so that afterwards I began to stammer and to stutter, which had never been the case before, that, when I was to say something, I could not utter a word and was unable to speak four words without stammering. At this my mother was much grieved, and she would often speak of the matter with the above said schoolmaster, expressing her fear that this would interfere with my studying. It was remarkable, however, that the defect did not at all trouble me in reading, and I was able to read an entire page without stammering once. For this reason, the said schoolmaster encouraged us to hope that, as I was not born with the defect, it would by and by disappear; which, thank God, it did. But the stammering lasted for three or four years of my boyhood. Another consequence of the above said fright was that I would get up and walk in my sleep. But that, too, soon passed away.

As regards my manners in my boyhood, my relatives and those of my age would often tease me in later years that I had refused to play with other children in the streets, [[@Page:475]]but had kept still to myself, perhaps sitting in a comer with a game of my own, or in a sentimental mood, speaking to myself, etc. When I came to be about fourteen years, my teacher saw that the talented boy longed to get ahead, and as the school at Britzen did not afford the opportunity, he insisted that my mother should send me away. For my mother reposed great hopes in me and loved me more than her remaining children, who were, for this reason, not well disposed toward me.

Now, my mother had some relatives living at Wittenberg, the Kelners. With the widow Kelner my mother arranged matters so that I was placed in the elementary school at that place. There I was for about half a year, but without any particular profit, except that it gave me pleasure to see excellent people and hear Luther when he preached. Among the boys the remark was made that Erasmus had died; whence I collect that my first expedition must have occurred in 1536. But the Kelners, considering the expenses of keeping me at Wittenberg so early without avail, advised my mother to take me back home.

In my native city, the boys were forever tormented with Grammar, but never instructed how the rules were to be applied in speaking or writing Latin. Now at Wittenberg I had heard that German must be translated into Latin, and I tried my hand at it. The preceptors wondered how I succeeded without anybody’s assistance; but no one helped me on.

About the beginning of 1538 the schoolmaster of whom frequent mention has been made withdrew from the school. I was with him half a year after that as a private pupil; but the good man was aware of his inability to help me on in my studies according to my talents, and was therefore continually urging that I be sent somewhere else. My brother, however, was hard and obstinately remonstrated it was not fair that he should work and I should consume. So, in 1538, I was compelled to leave school and lend a hand at [[@Page:476]]the cloth-maker’s trade. But I had no liking for it and did but poor work. Then I was told to think of some other trade; but I could not find any that pleased me. Meanwhile I got hold of a little book containing “elegancies of Latin speech,” which I read with great diligence, at the same time translating from the German Sirach. I even endeavored to give the same sense by a threefold version, while I had not as much as heard the name of copia mentioned. I even induced others to plead for me that I might be again put to school; but the answer was ever the same: It costs too much.

At last, in 1539, when I had nearly abandoned all hope of returning to school, it happened by special disposal of God, that Peter Niemann, secretary of the Council of Magdeburg, and in some degree related to me, and Benedict Koppen, then a sheriff’s clerk at Magdeburg, came over to Britzen. Considering that the two men were, in a way, relatives of mine, I sat down and wrote to them a Latin epistle as well as I had managed to learn without a master, and at the foot I added a distich according to the rules of prosody I had read. These efforts revealed to the worthy men a mind which yearned for advancement, and especially the good man Peter Niemann faithfully took my part, persuaded my mother that the expense would be small, he would see that I got free board and also do something toward procuring books. All this he has faithfully carried out, and under God I am indebted to this Peter Niemann for my return to my studies. Thus it was that, after Michaelmas, 1539, I was put to school at Magdeburg, and there I remained till St. John’s, 1542, having, during all this time, enjoyed free board with respectable citizens, as Grundeis and Zelle. There I made rapid progress in the study of Grammar, my first care being to observe the application of the rules in the writings of the authors and in Latin composition, thereupon, to pay attention to the phrases or the elegancies of Latin speech, so that I might learn to shape [[@Page:477]]my diction in accordance therewith. There I also received instruction in writing and criticising poetry. Reading poetry afforded me great pleasure. I also then and at later periods made some attempts at composing verse; but since I became aware of being without a poetical vein, and that my verses were forced, I preferred not to devote myself to this pursuit. And I remember that when, in Prussia, A. D. 1548, I composed a wedding-poem to my sister, Sabinus often repeated and praised my distich,

Orta domo parva, docto genus unde Sabino,

Unica quae viduae filia matris eram, etc.,

and encouraged me to devote myself to this pursuit; but I replied, he must himself see that the rest of the verses were strained, this distich having per chance flowed as it did; that I endorsed what Horace said, Thou shalt not say nor do anything without the consent of Minerva.

In the school at Magdeburg I, furthermore, received my first instruction in Dialectics and Rhetoric. With singular delight I there began to study the principles of Astronomy, and to the acquisition of a thorough knowledge of the rules of Greek Grammar I applied myself with great diligence; for to the study of this language I was drawn by a particular inclination. For all this I am, under God, indebted to the school of Magdeburg; for there I laid the foundations.

When I ought now to have taken my way to a University to finish the studies wherein I had made a beginning, the objection of my people was again: “It costs too much.” But it came to pass that they of Calbe on the Saale at that time wrote to M. Wolterstorp, Rector of the school of Magdeburg, that two fellows might be sent to them, whom they might use as tutors in their school. Now, there was a Frisian student available, who had been at universities; he was proposed for one. And as M. Wolterstorp observed that I was desirous of going, he designated me too for the position. Thus was I made a Bachelor in the school at Calbe, where I arrived on St. John’s, 1542. [[@Page:478]]

As my colleague had studied considerably, I took the rules of the Latin and the Greek languages and endeavored to apply them to their proper use. For this had displeased me much at the school of Magdeburg, that the rules were diligently inculcated and demanded, but as the application was not shown, especially in the Greek language, the work of learning was irksome. Having, therefore, purchased a Greek lexicon, I happened on Lucian’s Dialogues. The first I took up was his discourse de calumnia; then followed that de parasitica; and of all the various grammatical points I made a careful scrutiny on my own hook. Thus the study of the Greek language began to grow somewhat tasteful to me. And thus I learned that the most practical method of studying is when the boys are made to understand the use of the rules together with the rules, and that the students should at once give their thoughts to the practical application of the rules. For otherwise many are either estranged from their studies, or pursue them without profit, as I have seen in many cases.

At Calbe they would have kept me longer; they were also willing to raise the stipend. But my thoughts were bent upon the continuation of my studies; and this my colleague also urgently recommended, giving me the comforting assurance that I would be successful. So, then, I left Calbe at Easter, 1543, and as a relative of mine, D. Sabinus, was a University Professor at Frankfort on the Oder, I took what I had acquired at Calbe, and with that and what little my mother added, I came to Frankfort, Anno 1543, at Easter, and was there in the University about a year. In the lectures I observed what I had yet to learn, what authors must be read and in what manner, etc.

But when the little money I had brought was now consumed, I had again to look about for an occupation, and it so happened that near Frankfort, in a small town, Writzen on the Oder, where a great fish-trade is carried on, the schoolmaster departed, and I was given his position, A. D. [[@Page:479]]1544. I remained there a year and a half. Having meanwhile purchased many authors, I was diligently occupied in their perusal. The office was fairly good; for there was a clerkship in the fish-revenues connected with it, and ways and means were proposed to me which might have induced me to stay, as my brother advised that I should. But my thoughts pointed another way, and having saved some money in my position, I went to Wittenberg, A. D. 1545. As D. Sabinus, M. Philipp Melanchthon’s son-in-law, was a relative of mine, my cousin, the Burgomaster, von Brück, made me acquainted with M. Philipp. I was at that time, taking exercise in translating Greek authors, and an oration of Demosthenes and the epistle to Philippus, which I had translated, I took to M. Philipp, who read the translation, approved my diligence, and made remarks on some phrases. By his advice I also devoted myself to the study of Mathematics. I heard Reinhold interpret several books of Euclid, also the planetary theories. On that occasion I came upon the study of judiciary astrology, which I afterwards pursued with so much delight that I might have become an expert in that territory, if I had not later on turned to Theology. And though I, perhaps, devoted too much time on Astrology, yet that study was of use to me inasmuch as, by astrological predictions to several princes, I earned the means wherewith to pursue other studies, as I shall mention later.

During this time I heard Luther lecturing, preaching, and for the last time leading a disputation. But as I was then intent upon other studies, I did not hear him with due attention then.

Now M. Philipp had concluded that I was to become a Master of Arts. He had also designated me to the prince of Anhalt for a position in a school. But then the lamentable war of the Emperor against the Elector intervened.

Thus in my younger years, because of poverty and frequent migrations, I was not properly instructed. But at the Universities I only received hints how one must go [[@Page:480]]about his studies to make progress. Afterwards I had to achieve what I could by private study and great application.

When the school at Wittenberg was now closed because of the war, and a university had a short time previously been opened at Königsberg in Prussia, whither my relative, D. Sabinus, had removed, I concluded to follow my relative into Prussia. For the journey, my mother had given me 20 Thalers, which was the largest sum ever extended to me at one time by my people, and even that was not given very willingly. On May 18, 1547, I arrived at Königsberg in Prussia. Here D. Sabinus directed several young Polish noblemen to me for instruction, which brought me some revenue. Aside of other studies I paid most attention at that time to astrological predictions, whereby I became acquainted with many. In 1548, on the 31 of May, the school in the Kneiphof at Königsberg was committed to me.

In the same year, the first graduation of Masters was to take place, and the intention was to make it a conspicuous affair. For this reason they conferred with me through D. Sabinus, that I would graduate with two others in honor of the University. Thus was I promoted to the Master’s degree on Sept. 27, 1548, and the Duke in Prussia came up for all the costs.

In the same year I wrote a German Almanac or Calendar for the year 1549, and it was published at Konigsberg on Nov. 18. I published a similar work for 1550 by gracious request of the Duke in Prussia.

When, in 1549, D. Sabinus went to Wittenberg to get his children and take them to Prussia, I went with him, and in an epistle written in Greek I asked M. Philipp to show me a method of properly instituting and shaping the study of Theology. Among other things he replied that the chief light and best method in theological study was to observe the difference between the Law and the Gospel. [[@Page:481]]

In that year there was a violent pestilence at Königsberg. For this reason, when I returned to Prussia, I resigned my position in the school on June 28, and removed, with Sabinus, to a small town, named Salfeld. Having no other books there, I read the Magister Sententiarum, and it was thus I began to take a liking to the writings of antiquity. In Luther’s Postils I made observations on German phrases, metaphors, forms of transition and the continuation of speech in German, etc., as also how Luther treats definitions, divisions, arguments, etc., observations which I still have on paper.

In 1550, on our return to Königsberg, I intended to leave Prussia; but the Duke would not permit me to go, because I was not only known to His Grace as the author of those Calendars, but had also explained to him the Revolutions of several potentates. This led to my appointment as librarian in the ducal library in the castle, which was well stocked with the best books in every line. The care of this library was committed to me on April 5, 1550. I look upon this as the greatest fortune God bestowed upon me during the time of my studies. Hitherto I had strayed about in various reading and divers studies, and had not yet decided to what study I would devote myself entirely. I remember that Funk, who wrote the preface to my first Almanac under my name, and several others, having noticed a certain ingenuity in some of my predictions, advised me to devote myself wholly to this study. But as I saw that the foundation for such predictions were rather uncertain, I preferred to make use of Astrology only in such a way as to scrape together thereby the necessary means for other studies; and in this I was fairly successful. However, the Arabian fooleries and certain other superstitious tricks I have always fled, despised and shunned, in this science.

I also heard medical lectures in the university of Königsberg, but somehow the study did not take my fancy. The jurists, too, I heard, and I remember how, after I had been [[@Page:482]]put in charge of the Library, Sabinus had a long and learned argument with me. He said I was not void of talent and had now plenty of books; but that he had learned from experience that he who would work into prominence by the study of Law, but lacked court talent, would derive little benefit from the knowledge of Law; and he recalled several examples, etc. Hence the thought of studying Law was then and there dropped entirely.

I should have given myself wholly to Theology earlier, had it not been for my dislike for superficial knowledge of any kind. Hence while I was destitute of books whence I might acquire solidly and from its foundations what is necessary for this study, I had no taste for Theology. For I could not approve of those who, satisfied with certain dictations, were not eager to understand the text from its fundamentals, or to arrive at a sound judgment of the points of controversy. To this was added that, having heard Staphylus, who subsequently apostatized, for about two years, I had never known him to advance anything that was sure and solid. Yet, to nourish godliness, my mind was always inclined toward this study.

So, then, when I now had the most desirable store of the best books in the ducal library, and God governing my course, I devoted myself wholly to the study of Theology. My method was this. First I read the biblical books through in their order, comparing all the various versions and expositions, old and new, which were in the library, and if I met anything that seemed memorable or remarkable, I made a note of it on paper arranged for this purpose. In the second place, I read the writings of the Fathers, from the earliest antiquity, and what engaged my attention was entered in my notes. In the third place, I diligently read those recent authors who pointed out the fundamentals of the purified doctrines, and chiefly those who wrote polemical treatises on the controversies of our time, the arguments of the Papists, Anabaptists, Sacramentarians, and from what [[@Page:483]]foundations the explanations and solutions were to be taken, and what solutions were the best. The notes I made of all these things in my memoranda I still have and often inspect with great delight and profit.

This good opportunity of studying in the library I have diligently improved for fully three years. Those were indeed days when I lived in clover. The duke furnished me with board and lodging, fuel, light, clothing and the maintenance of a famulus. At the burgrave’s, whose children were under my care, my fare was lordly; there I dined with chancelors, marshals and counselors of high standing, with whom I was in great favor, received presents, was bothered with nothing, and studied with delight. I would probably have remained in Prussia, if Osiander had not created trouble in the church there. Yet that Osiandrian controversy afforded me occasion to give more careful thought to the foundations of doctrine, and when in a certain public disputation I had pressed Osiander hard with firm arguments, there were those who endeavored to excite the Duke’s indignation against me. But next to God I had my one protection in my Astrology, without which the Duke would not do.

As, however, the Osiandrian disturbance grew more and more burdensome, toward the end of 1552, I asked for my dismissal, giving as cause that I was desirous of completing my studies. Now the Duke was unwilling to let me go, on account of my Astrology; he, therefore, offered to give me a decent annual stipend ad studia, if I would oblige myself to serve him before others. But I desired to be free, having had occasion to see how such obligations at court were interpreted. I, therefore, declined the obligation. But on Dec. 31, 1552, His Grace promised me 200 Thalers ad studia, without obligation, only that I should cast a few horoscopes every year for His Grace.

Thus did I leave Prussia on the 3d of April, 1553. Now, Margrave Hans had heard of me, when the Duke in [[@Page:484]]Prussia had sent him a few computations of mine, and since, in the year when Duke Maurice marched against the Emperor, my predictions and calculations had come true very precisely, my stargazing was a precious thing at the courts. So, then, I visited Margrave Hans with a few Revolutions on my journey and received a present of 50 Thalers, and in later years I cast numerous horoscopes for His Grace the Margrave, so that at various times I received some 200 Thalers for such stargazing.

On April 29, 1553, I returned to Wittenberg with letters from D. Sabinus, and became a commensal of M. Philipp. During that time I was an attentive hearer of M. Philipp, because I now understood better what he taught.

In October I fell severely ill, and the disease lasted on to four weeks. I have, thank God, been ill very little during my life; only this time when I was at school at Magdeburg. It was in both instances a fever without paroxysms, continuous heat, and the physicians declared it to be of a hectic turn. Let this be noted for later.

On Jan. 15, 1554, I was received in the Faculty of Arts in the University of Wittenberg, and it fell to my lot to be the examiner of those who were then seeking the Master’s degree.

On May 17 there was a convention of theologians at Naumburg. I had traveled thither with M. Philipp. But on the journey he began to speak to me that, since I had read a good deal in the Prussian library, I should make an attempt at lecturing in Theology. On our return home, M. Philipp wrote an announcement of a course of lectures on the Loci communes, under my name, which was affixed on the 6 of June. I opened the lecture on June 9, and, it being given out that the hearers were to assemble in the old lecture room, so great a number convened that M. Philipp, who was present in the first lecture, bade the hearers repair to the new lecture room. The number of hearers remained at the same height as long as I lectured [[@Page:485]]there. But I did not get beyond the loci de Deo, de Filio, and de Spiritu Sancto.

Meanwhile Doctor Mörlin, who had learned to know me in Prussia, wrote to me from Brunswick, that the office of Coadjutor was vacant, and requested that I would take a stroll to Brunswick. Thus, by way of a stroll, I came to Brunswick, Aug. 6, and preached there, Aug. 12, on the deaf-mute man. Thereupon the vocation to the office of Coadjutor followed. All the Professors of Wittenberg dissuaded me from going. M. Philipp proposed that I be engaged for the weekday-sermons in the castle at Wittenberg, and the instruction of the candidates for ordination, until I might be further promoted. But God inclined my heart altogether toward Brunswick, and finally I accepted the position and, in a letter of Sept. 28, I promised my services to those of Brunswick. On Oct. 20 I concluded my lecture on the locus de Spiritu Sancto, and bade farewell to my hearers, who were much grieved. On Nov. 25 D. Pomeranus ordained me to the ministry, and no examination was required. On Nov. 30 I left Wittenberg, accompanied by a decent escort, and dismissed with honorable testimonials.

On Dec. 4 I arrived at Brunswick. On Dec. 15 the office of Coadjutor was solemnly conferred upon me, at the Mint, by the hon. Council and the Board of Supervisors, having previously, on Dec. 12, been presented in a colloquy by the Superintendent, and admitted. On Dec. 16 I preached my first sermon in the office of Coadjutor, in St. Aegidiae, on St. John in prison. My salary was, at first, 200 Fl. light coin. Then, A. 1556, it was raised to 250 Fl. Anno 1560, when I had a call to Lüneburg and Brandenburg, I was here promised 300 Fl. coin, 7 bu. rye, 12 Fl. for butter, 10 Fl. for wood. In 1564, when I had a call from the king of Denmark, it was made 200 Thalers. In 1566, on account of the call to Göttingen, I was promised 250 Thalers, and for my wife, after my death, an annuity of 30 Thalers and 2 bu. rye. [[@Page:486]]

Anno 1555 I married a daughter of Hermann Jaeger, Licentiate of Laws, who was a native of Arnstadt and had married Peter Hahn’s daughter, at Cöhten. He was at that time a resident of Brunswick, where he practiced. The espousals were on March 19; the dower, 200 Fl. coin. On Aug. 19, the wedding was celebrated in the house of Jodocus Kale, the Burgomaster, and as wedding presents I received 1 goldplated goblet from the Duke in Prussia; 2 silver cups from the Supervisors; 1 silver cup from the preachers, 1 from the schoolteachers; 1 from Nicolaus Gallus of Ratisbon; 1 of George Hahn, clerk of the exchequer at Halle. Other presents amounting to 70 Thalers.

And since God has blessed our married life, I will here give a list of the children whom God has given us: —

  1. Martin was born 1556, May 28, 9.50 A. M. He died 1557, May 9, 11 P. M., having for a week been laboring with epilepsy.

  2. Anna was born 1557, Nov. 4, —30 P. M. She died 1563, Nov. 14, at 1 o’clock at night, having been violently ill with epilepsy.

  3. Magdalena was born 1559, July 27, 3.50 A. M.

  4. A second Martin was born 1561, Oct. 7, A. M. about sunrise.

  5. A second Anna was born 1564, Jan. 14, 5 A. M.

  6. Paulus was born 1566,, March 8, 3.30 P. M.

  7. Eva was born 1568, May 18, a few minutes after half past nine A. M.

  8. Margareth was born 1570, Aug. 4, at 12 M. She died June 5, 1579, having for several days been in great agony at the point of death.

  9. Julia, so named after her godfather, Duke Julius, was born 1573, Feb. 7, 9 A. M.

  10. Hedwig, so named after her godmother, Hedwig, wife of Duke Julius, was born 1575, Apr. 16, at 5 A. M., or shortly before. She died of the pest, Oct. 15, 1577.[[@Page:487]]

Anno Domini 1555, on the 22d of April, I commenced, at Brunswick, my exposition of the Loci Communes of Philippus. I was unwilling to burden my hearers with extensive dictations, but gave them by recital what I deemed useful and necessary by way of explanation. But these lectures were taken down by many, and particularly was Johannes Zanger, Pastor of St. Peter’s, diligent herein. After the lectures, he endeavored to put into proper shape what he had taken down, and this he submitted to me for correction. But as the work of correcting was difficult and burdensome, I began myself to put into order and, as it were, cast into form, what I had brought together in the exposition of each Locus and delivered by recital. This was how I came to put down in writing my meditations and collections on the several Loci, as far as I got in my expository lectures. These annotations are frequently of great use to me now, and in a way serve as aids to my memory. But not everywhere have they been sufficiently filed, nor have matters been everywhere set forth and explained with sufficient exactness. But I intend, if God grant me life, leisure and opportunity, to knit, correct and amend those annotations. For many things have I meanwhile learned as I taught.

A. G

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