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Good Words 1860
Dr Wichern and The Rauhes Haus


I. The Foundation

"Jesus Christ is the founder of he Rauhes Haus." - Wichern


The old "Rough House."

One autumn morning, a few years ago, being somewhat weary of the Alster-Bassin and the Neuerwall and the Bourse and the crowded streets of Hamburg—albeit picturesque enough with their shifting life and contrast, and their quaint, pretty Vierlanderinnen, and those tripping maids who wear their basket and shawl slung with such a graceful coquetry over the left arm, and the long vistas of gloomy water running between tall-storeyed houses and broken by the plash of oars and the gleam of the red-bloused watermen and the dark bridges that echo far away to the steady roar of the thoroughfare—somewhat weary of this, I went with a friend through the Stein-Thor to the suburb of St George, and leaving that dreary district as soon as possible on the left, loitered on along a high footpath overshadowed by noble trees, and that ran beside one of the principal roads leading out of the town. The red leaves were beginning to drop softly through the autumn air, the sun gleamed brightly over the broad reaches of the Elbe, the gay-looking villas—one almost for every roadside tree—displayed the last of their dahlias and scarlet geraniums, and presently the city tumult lay so far behind that the birds could hear their own voices, and sang merrily up into the blue sky. And just as one felt this was really the country, and a tempting little sidepath drew one up from the highway under its thick chestnuts, and even the soft sand, in which the foot sunk at every step, was grateful for its very quiet, at the top of a little rising ground there shewed a low wooden spire and one or two high roofs, and then a whole cluster of houses, with gardens and shaded alleys between, until a wide opening revealed a park, belted round for the, most part with dark woods, and studded with buildings of every shape—cottages, and offices, and some handsome and imposing structures, all grouped round the low wooden spire but with apparently no other principle of arrangement, the walks leading freely out and no gate swung across them, some boys moving briskly here and there, and others scattered at work through the distant fields — altogether a singular and puzzling sight. It was the Reformatory called the Rauhes Haus, world-famous now, and to be found with honourable record in all reports of Social Science and the like. Neither porter nor porter's lodge barred our entrance, and we were presently walking through the grounds to a pleasant, bright-looking house, with a gay light veranda running round the front; and passing in through one or two rooms where the clerks' pens were making a wonderful noise, found ourselves closeted with Dr Wichern. There was much to be learnt of the working of the system—much to be learnt afterwards among the boys, and the hours slipped quickly by till our steps were reluctantly turned back to the city, though soon to be bent again up that quiet sandy path, and to that busy Christian colony in the parish of Horn, by the Elbe. For there is a fascination in the work and the workers, and in the pervading atmosphere of the place, that draws one to it with an ever-fresh interest. But there is a still deeper interest in the story of the Rauhes Haus itself—the story of its origin and its growth through these thirty years. There is no other Reformatory like it, none penetrated by such a noble, simple, Christian spirit. And it is as singular in its beginning and in the principle of its existence. It was begun and carried on in faith: it is still made dependent upon prayer : and from prayer and faith the entire work proceeds. The great world knows it as an admirable institution for rescuing the young from crime, the organisation of a thoughtful, practical, earnest, loving man, and from which other thoughtful and practical and loving men have been thankful to copy. There is another world in which it is known also as an illustration of certain clear and eternal but overlooked laws, such as—"Ask and ye shall receive: if we ask anything according to His will He heareth us: all things whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive: whatsoever ye shall ask in my name that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son." It is surely worth while looking at it in this aspect, and obtaining any light we can on the working of such laws in our modern life. It may be found they are not so antiquated as our prevalent religious beliefs assume; nor so burdened with prohibitory restrictions as to be of no practical use. And before accompanying any patient readers through the Rauhes Haus of I860, I must beg them first to consider how there came to be a Rauhes Haus at all.

The cholera was still lingering in Hamburg, breaking out in those fitful, irregular cases that mark its subsidence, when, on an October evening in 1832, a few men were assembled in the room of the schoolmaster H------. The room evidently did not belong to the upper ten thousand, nor did the people. Both were plain and simple; and the men, some of whom were artisans, and some in business or in the professions, wore earnest and grave faces. It was an unknown but very energetic and working society, recently organised for visiting the poor; and any one who is acquainted with Hamburg will conceive the seriousness and weary effort of such a purpose. Hamburg has an unholy pre-eminence among continental seaports: its vice is more open, its materialism is grosser; and whatever life there is in the Church is confined to a few individuals scattered through the city, and thus powerless. What the poor would be under such circumstances—how hard to rescue them, or overtake a tithe of their need—how helplessly the visitor would pass from lane to lane, and grope through the horrible and mysterious cellars, is easily conceivable. Moreover, in a time of pestilence all licence seems withdrawn from evil, the whole social state is confused, and the power of reform possessed by a handful of isolated and uninfluential workers is imperceptibly small.. It was just this matter that these men were discussing,

and how best to face the discouragements of their position. The most eager was Immanuel Wichern, a young candidat [A clergyman not yet in orders. ] of twenty-four, thorough and clear in his speech, and with firm lines in his face, which, together with his deep-set, steady eyes, betokened an energy and resolve that would grapple hard with most problems that he met. As a visitor he had mixed greatly with the poorest day-labourers —with porters, crossing-sweepers, costermongers of every species—just that side of the population which is the great feeder of the criminal class, and which swallows up individual effort with as little impression as an Irish bog will receive anything from Pat's old shoes to a railway embankment. He saw there was hope with the children before poverty and wicked homes drove them into crime: to visit, them was useless so long as they remained exposed to every evil influence : to train them at a school, while they lived in their old haunts, was only to roll the stone uphill all day and let it roll back at night. And it had struck him that for any real good they must be separated from their previous life, and kept entirely out of the way of their old associations and companions.

This was not a novel conception. Falk had established his Reformatory at Weimar in 1814. In 1819 the Counts von Volmerstein, father and son, dedicated their property and life to a similar object at Dusselthal; Zeller began one in 1820 at Castle Beuggen, in Baden; in 1823 there sprang up one in Kornthal, in Wurtemberg, and in 1825 another at Berlin. But there was none nearer Hamburg than Berlin—none for the need of the whole North. No doubt there was a prison-school opened in 1828 for young criminals, and which in 1.833 had multiplied its inmates from nineteen to fifty, while many were sent away from want of room; but there was a radical objection to the qualification for entrance—viz., juvenile criminality. It was clear that this would not do. And so the young candidat continued his reflections, not neglecting to gather such statistics as might help him; such as that in Prussia at that time there were one hundred thousand criminals; that, in 1828, the Newgate chaplain returned fifteen thousand boys, from eight to twelve years of age, who lived in London by theft; that, while in the United States the proportion of juvenile to adult criminals was one to seven, in Prussia it was one to thirty-four, in Holland one to thirty-five, but in Schleswig-Holstein, which touched him closer, one to sixteen. Along with these statistics however, certain clear ideas were shaping in his mind. Separation was necessary, and a home for the children. Was that enough? The other reformatories sought no more; but it struck him that a household of a hundred children was unnatural and unhomelike. The nearer he kept to existing relations, he felt the surer of success. The family was God's own order, and the natural place for a child. The family life was the circle within which the purest and strongest influences were to be sought. He knew there was little of it among the poor. A child of ten years could tell him that its father was drunk, and often deserted them; that he was brought back by the police. It was a sorry house; and yet the mother was a tie to the children, though what kind of a mother she was is plain from a gleeful recollection of this very child, when once she had armed all the children with household utensils, and led the charge against the poor drunken man on his return. At last the mother died; and, if that can be called a home, it was broken up. The children were divided among other pauper families. "What shall I do?" said the little fellow soon after to a sister in another family. "Go and drown yourself, and I'll soon follow." He waited till it was dark—it was a Sunday—then went to the water and put off his clothes. . . . God saved him. Weeping, he said, ''Mother was dead, and there was no pleasure in living, any more." Scant family life in that picture; but what there was was moulding the, child : if the atmosphere had been purer, who can trace the influence? So Wichern felt, meditating upon this and many a story like it, his plans slowly maturing. He would have no more children together than would make one household; they would have a household head and household ways; and if their number increased, there might be many separate households, each independent, and yet all bound in one large household, of which he would be the general father. But was not any improvement of the children chimerical? Was there any likelihood of success? He had studied this also. Elsewhere three out of four children were reformed; in one place only one out of ten seemed lost; in Wurtemberg the proportion was even less. And therefore, feeling he might have some confidence, he made his proposal to the meeting. He was warm and enthusiastic about it; the need of his city was pressing him on. "About this time," he says, "a little, unknown child came to me in the open street, and, with outstretched hands, and begging face, and many tears, tried to kiss the hand that had never done it a benefit, and cried, 'Come with me, come with me, and see for yourself.'" That child was for ever in his thoughts; there could be no rest for him till he had answered it. He spoke as only men of deep feeling and purpose can: it appealed to them all; their experience was the same as his ; it was needful to do something; and when the meeting broke up, they had determined, in God's name, to establish a Reformatory.

The friends dispersed with new thoughts and a sudden responsibility for the future. They were men of very moderate means, unable to give any considerable money contributions, unlikely to influence others. It was a subject on which no interest was felt in the city; even in their own circle it could be broached only with some timidity and caution. And yet it was a large and comprehensive scheme, one requiring capital and generous support; and if adopted by a few enthusiastic men, was it at all likely to find a response among quiet, easy, common-sense people? Would it not be pooh-poohed by them as a visionary notion? Would not this "visiting society" be ignored in that careless, matter-of-course fashion by which the great world puts down the small? Likely enough; and probably these men never felt themselves poorer or more powerless, than when they went thoughtfully back to their homes, and saw the poverty and crime of their city by the glare of its lamps, and knew that no man cared. But the sense of weakness is by no means a sense of failure. It is just in their weakness that men who believe in a spiritual world outlying and ruling this of ours are cast utterly upon its force, and find themselves girded with a superhuman strength—"out of weakness are made strong." "We had only one treasure," they said, "the promise of our gracious Lord." Realising that, they felt no need of any other. They talked little about the matter; but if they met in the street, the question was—"Are you praying earnestly?" The question soon answered itself. A gentleman, who knew nothing of their plan, gave them a hundred thalers (L. 15) for the poor, and especially to help in raising up an institution for reclaiming criminals. They thought: this a considerable sum, and sought for some public man in whose name they could invest it. One of the senators was suggested. He accepted the trust, and then mentioned that he was executor of the will of a Christian merchant who had bequeathed large sums to pious objects, and, among others, L. 1600 for a Reformatory. He mentioned, also, that this stun would be at their disposal. It was now time for the November meeting. Four weeks previous they had nothing but prayer, and the promise, and faith; now they had upwards of L. 1600. Nor did their encouragement rest here. In January some of them started a periodical which was to spread reformatory intelligence. On the very day of its first publication, a lady left a large donation; in a few weeks it crept out that some servant girls were collecting their mites; a journeyman shoemaker emptied out his saving-box with both silver and gold; many similar gifts flowed in, some of them wrapped up in encouraging texts of' Scripture; it was felt that God was strangely working for them; the sympathies and sacrifice of the poor gave them hopefulness and strength; and at. length they began to look for some suitable building, unsuccessfully as it turned out.

There was then in Hamburg the Syndic Sieve-king, and there, is still near Hamburg the pretty village of Wandsbeck; and to those who have read the very touching and noble memoir of the bookseller Perthes, neither of these names will be unfamiliar—the one the name of a family loved and honoured through many generations and now worthily represented in our own London; the other belonging to the chosen home of Matthias Claudius. Sieveking had a considerable estate lying round the town, and on that part of it which verged upon Wandsbeck, he presented ground for the purpose. It was one of the most charming spots in the neighbourhood, a most choice and picturesque site, and promised to be every way suitable and convenient. Very late on a winter's evening, Wichern hurried into town with the good news, but, late as it was, he assembled his friends for a thanksgiving; for had they not been simply waiting for what God would give them? and now, in three months, they had friends, and money, and land! In a day or two, however, tidings came that the will already mentioned was disputed; a few days later, it was found that the site was useless for building on. This was no light blow; and men less firm might have lost faith, and let their purpose slip through their wavering,

unsteady hold. But they were perfectly clear about their way, that it was the right way to reach their object, and that God would not disappoint their trust. They might have been hasty and over-confident; they might be trusting in their success; they might need a warning; and they read the lesson truly—"That we should never build on anything but Him, no, not even on His gifts." And so they went on precisely as before, in prayer and calmness, and as hopeful as when they began. The issue deserves special heed. Mr Sieveking bethought him one morning of a little place he had in Horn, between Wandsbeck and the Elbe. Unfortunately it was leased, and the lease had some time to run; and as he went over to try what could be done with the tenants, he felt by no means sanguine. Singularly enough, they were anxious to leave. The ground was not extensive, yet admirably adapted to the purpose; and there was a house upon it, noway remarkable certainly, for it was a little cottage half in ruins; but the rooms could be easily improved, the thatch was pretty good, there was a deep well close by, the finest chestnut of the neighbourhood flung its shadow over the roof, there was a garden, and even a fish-pond, and the name of this spot from time immemorial had been, "Das Rauhe Haus." ["The Rough House." The origin of this name is uncertain, but it is totally unconnected with the Reformatory, to which it has since been attached merely by local association. The tradition, indeed, runs in the family of Claudius that it was built by one called Ruge, that it got the name of Ruge's Haus, and that this was popularly corrupted into Rauhes Haus.] Improvements were immediately begun, (it was the end of April); the will case went in favour of the charities and was decided with an unusual quickness ; and by August the friends were in possession of the money and the building.

Matters had now assumed so definite a shape, that it was thought advisable to call a public meeting in September, when about a hundred persons came, and the plan of a Reformatory was laid before them and adopted. It was to provide a refuge for the children until confirmation. It was not to be an orphanage, nor a ragged-school, nor a house of correction, nor a beggars' asylum, but a Christian household. It repudiated any support from the State, or from any benevolent or civic institution; it would limit its operation by the help it would spontaneously receive through the sympathy of Christian hearts. These were the simple principles which the meeting sanctioned, passively, it would seem, and because they were carried away into enthusiasm by Wichern's persuasive pleading and his terrible statistics; for the notion of a Reformatory was too novel to be well understood, and people asked each other what the word meant. Nevertheless, the scheme had received this public recognition, and on the last evening of the next month—another October —the young clergyman and his mother passed quietly under the low thatched roof of the little Rauhes Haus, and the Reformatory was begun. There was no festival, no stir of applauding friends; only thoughtful Syndic Sieveking had hung in the sitting-room two of his favourite pictures, "Christ's Entry into Jerusalem," and the "Blessing of the Little Children."

There is something touching in the contrast between the unconscious heedless city, with its gay lights shimmering in the Alster, and the gay music escaping in bursts out of its crowded saloons, and its crime and misery stalking through the night, its brawls and wantonness, and the sad haggard faces of its poor, and faces of despair bending over the gloomy river—between this and that self-denying son and mother leaving cheerfully their world behind them, unattended, unknown, with no arm about them but God's, entering by faith on a life of the most painful and incessant sacrifice, and all for that very unwitting city, the glare of whose lamps cast up against the sky is the last thing they see as they close the door of their humble cottage behind them. And pray think, good reader, as you change your seat to some more luxurious chair, or saunter idly through green lanes perfumed by the May, what this man's work is—to associate with rough, hardened lads born and bred in crime, to shut himself up with them in the hope of winning hold upon their wild natures, to bear their coarseness and brutality, train them up through their ignorance, to be their companion, gentle, and kind, and frank to them. That is precisely what he has undertaken : real, thorough, manly work, that. Let it please you also to remember on what ground he has undertaken it: by faith, he says. They are to come to him, these shy, half-savage, free-living Arabs, out to this grave modest little cottage, and to sit down and be taught. They must be fed and clothed. And he is to have no subscription-lists, nor charity sermons, nor annual donors, nor collecting-cards, but he is to depend on the sympathies of Christian hearts! Perhaps you smile: he is an enthusiast. Let him be: I am not now wishing to pronounce him either right or wrong; but only to shew the principle on which he worked, and to induce you to examine for yourself what came of it. From this time we lose sight of the Visiting Society; it falls back again into the social life of Hamburg: the Reformatory centres in Wichern. He had been the mover in it all along, he had borne the others with him. He was the only man to carry it through. They hold out to him strong, brotherly, helping hands, they sustain him by their prayers, but for the rest we hear no more of them. Like other men of marked characters and with distinct labours laid on them by God, he is now to push his way from among the crowd into a clear space where he can work freely and alone, where he is rid of the hesitations and doubts and traditions that fetter most of us, and can act directly on those about him. He has been rapidly changing through the past twelve months; his will has been gaining an iron strength, his purpose has been moulding his thoughts, his life has assumed a definite and almost rigid shape; he is no longer meditating sadly the phases of a vexing problem but bent on carrying it on to some solution. And he sits there firmly in the sacrifice of youth, he and the kind, true-hearted mother, looking out to the winter days before him, and waiting for the lost children to be brought to his door. Will they come?


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