« VorigeDoorgaan »
endeavors to recover them from their lost condition, and to restore them to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. Let every disobedient child duly consider the interest which affectionate parents have in hinı; and let the consideration awaken in his heart sentiments, feelings and emotions tending to effect a return to duty and obedience. Let it be our constant concern to keep in mind that we are all the children of God, that we are his offspring; and wherein we find that we have conducted inconsistently with this unalterable truth, let it be our endeavor to reform, and to bring all our desires and all our actions to that holy standard of moral rectitude, which we are sensible is well pleasing to the Father of our spirits.
John Frederic Oberlin.
Memoirs of John Frederic Oberlin, Pastor of Waldbach, in the Ban de la Roche. From the third London edition. With an Introduction by the American Editor. Cambridge. 1832. 12mo. pp. 301.
One of the most admirable personages of the last generation, was John Frederic Oberlin, Pastor of Waldbach, in the northeast of France, where, after a long ministry of nearly sixty years, he died in 1826. A memoir of him lately appeared in England, and was republished at Canıbridge, in the early part of the last year, under the title which stands at the head of this article. Though weak and visionary in some of his notions, possessed of no talents that would be called brilliant, and secluded in one of the most obscure parishes in the country, yet the unequalled success with wbich he devoted his entire being to the improvement and welfare of his humble filock, attracted the admiration of philanthropists throughout all Europe, and finally spread his fame, by hiin unsought and unexpected, over the whole Christian world.
He was born and brought up in the city of Strasburg, on the borders of France and Germany. From infancy, his distinguishing characteristics were benevolence, generosity and self-denial, of which several remarkable instances are given in the history of his youth. The example and instructions of a pious mother early impressed his mind with deep religious sentiments, which, as he grew older, were strengihened by various circumstances into the lively and all-pervading principle of his life. Having completed his education at one of the universities of Strasburg, he was ordained in 1760; but no situation offering, which suited bis peculiar taste and purposes, he spent some years as doinestic tutor in the fainily of an eminent surgeon. Perhaps no man was ever more regardless than he of worldly bonors and distinctions. He was ambitious only of a station where he might find ample scope to be useful, whatever were the hardships and cares with which it was encumbered. Such a place, at length presented itself.
About fifteen or twenty miles west of the delightful city of Strasburg, there was a wild district among the inountains, shut out from the rest of the world, and remaining in the ball barbarous state of the dark ages. Even its language was an unintelligible gibberish, resembling the antiquated French of the twelfth century; its schools, so called, were only nominal, the masters themselves being scarcely able to write or to read. The territory had never recovered from the devastations of ancient wars; the soil was hard, and agriculture in its rudest state; the roads utterly neglected, without bridges, and generally but mere foot-paths; and the inhabitants a race of tenants oppressed and degraded by the remains of feudal vassalage.
It was to one of the parishes in this district that Oberlin cheerfully dedicated his ministry and his life, in 1767, at the age of twenty-six. Some improvement had indeed been already effected, especially in the schools, by his enterprising predecessor ; but it remained for him to turn to account what little had been done, and to change the rugged waste, both moral and physical, into cultured fields and a virtuous intelligent community. On his arrival at Waldbach, the first glance that he threw over the mountains was enough to convince him that the task he had proposed was one of no Aattering kind. He soon found that the natural difficulties in his way were to be increased by the perverseness and obstinacy of his ignorant parishioners. Attached by the habits of successive generations to their old course of life, they resolved to oppose all innovation; and when their inveterate prejudices were alarmed by the signs of improvement, they became outrageous. They formed conspiracies against their new pastor ; they way laid bim. But bis vigilance detected their plots; and by bis magnanimity, by a happy mixture of gentleness and decision, by throwing bimsell unreservedly into their power and still maintaining his self-possession and air of authority, he disheartened them of their resentment. His enemies grew desirous of gaining his esteem, and for this purpose began to second his views, which they had before so bitterly opposed.
As a preliminary step to bis beneficent plans, he judged it necessary to bring his parishioners into contact with the inhabitants of other and more civilized districts, by opening a regular communication with the high road 10 Strasburg. To give a specimen of his mode of procedure, we quote the account at large of the execution of this project:
“ Having therefore assembled the people, he proposed that they should blast the rocks, and convey a sufficient quantity of enormous masses to construct a wall to support a road about a mile and a half in length, along the banks of the river Bruche, and build a bridge across it near Rothau. The peasants were perfectly astonished at the proposition. The project appeared to them totally impracticable, and every one excused himself on the plea of private business, from engaging in so stupendous an undertaking. Oberlin, still intent on the prosecution of his scheme, endeavored to refute the objections raised on all sides. The produce of your fields,' said he, 'will then meet with a ready market abroad; for instead of being imprisoned in your villages nine months out of the twelve, you will be enabled to keep up an intercourse with the inhabitants of the neighboring districts. You will have the opportunity of procuring a number of things of which you have long stood in need, without the possibility of obtaining them, and your happiness will be augmented and increased by the additional means thus afforded, of providing comforts for yourselves and your children.' But his arguments were concluded with a more touching appeal. He offered them his own example in the undertaking. Let all,' he said, 'who feel the importance of my proposition, come and work with me.' Oberlin had already traced the plan, and no sooner had he pronounced these words, than, with a pick-axe on his shoulder, he proceeded to the spot; whilst the astonished peasants, animated by his example,
forgot their former excuses, and hastened, with unanimous consent, to fetch their tools and follow him. He presently assigned to each individual an allotted post, selected for himself and a faithful servant the most difficult and dangerous places; and regardless of the thorns by which his hands were torn, and the loose stones by which they were occasionally bruised, went to work with the greatest diligence and enthusiasm. The emulation awakened by his conduct quickly spread through the whole parish. The increased number of hands rendered an increased number of implements necessary; he procured them from Strasburg; expenses accumulated; he interested his distant friends, and, through their assistance, funds were obtained; walls were erected to support the earth, which appeared ready to give way; mountain torrents, which had hitherto inundated the meadows, were diverted into courses, or received into beds sufficient to contain them; perseverance, in short, triumphed over difficulties, and, at the commencement of the year 1770, a communication was opened with Strasburg, by means of the new road, and a neat wooden bridge thrown across the river. This bridge still bears the name of Le Pont de Charité," (Charity-Bridge.] pp. 54–56.
His next undertaking was to facilitate the communication, hitherto extremely difficult, between the several villages which stood in this mountainous district. It must have been a striking scene to behold the pastor, who on Sunday had directed the attention of his people, with all the fervor of his soul, to the rest that remaineth for the people of God,' marching, on Monday, at the head of two hundred of his flock, with a pickaxe on his shoulders, to the rough and fatiguing labors of the week. To accommodate the peasants, he stocked a large warehouse at Waldbach with agricultural tools and implements of husbandry, and sold them on credit to such as had not the ready money. A sort of lending fund was established, under such regulations, however, that a failure to repay at the prescribed time, deprived the delinquent, for a certain period, of the privilege of borrowing again. There were neither masons, blacksmiths, nor cartwrights in the country, and the inhabitants were subjected to numerous privations and to great expense in procuring from the neighboring towns the necessary utensils and repairs. Oberlin, therefore, selected from among the elder boys some of ready abilities, and sent them to Strasburg to learn the several trades; and these, on their return, instructed others in their newly-acquired arts. The dwellings were generally but wretched cabins, hewn out of the rocks or sunk into the sides of the mountains; under bis instructions, the tenants were brought to erect neat and convenient cottages.
He wished to improve their miserable agriculture, but his suggestions to this purpose were heard with characteristic incredulity. To then it seemed that a man brought up, as their pastor bad been, in a city, and having no practical acquaintance with husbandry, must of course know less of the subject than themselves. He determined at once to appeal to their eyes, rather than their reason. Two gardens, belonging to the parsonage, and crossed by public foot-paths, were chosen for the scene of his exhibition; and his success soon attracted the notice of the peasants, as they went by to their daily work, and inspired them with a wish to avail themselves of the example. The face of the whole country began at length to put on a new appearance. The cottages, hitherto bare and desolate, became surrounded with little orchards and gardens; and instead of indigence and misery, the villages gradually assumed an air of rural happiness. Every step in this course of improvement was directed by Oberlin. He introduced new seeds and new plants, taught the art of procuring and using manure, converted the less productive pastures into arable land, established in 1778 a little agricultural society as auxiliary to that of Strasburg, and finally gave' weekly lectures on husbandry and useful science.
Meanwhile, a large share of his attention was devoted to the instruction of the young. On his removal to this district, he found, in all of the five villages it contained, but one regular school-house, and that, a log hut in a ruinous condition. It was in vain that he urged the inhabitants to provide a suitable edifice; they would not even consent that he should erect one on his own responsibility, till he had entered into a formal engagement that the parish should never become chargeable with its future repairs. Some of his friends at Strasburg were persuaded to lend their assistance; he himself spared a little from his own scanty income of about two hundred dollars per annum; and although the amount thus collected fell far short of the contemplated expense, he ventured on the erection of a house, trusting in God for the supply of all defi