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Good Words 1860
Dr. Wichern and The Rauhe Haus


III. - The Building

A dozen rough, lawless, and wild street-boys, who know so little of the commonest kindness that they suspect it, and take virtue for some new form of vice, are not likely to be controlled by excellent theories of love alone. There is a great force in the orderly strength of a regulated will, there are certain eyes that dart a strong appeal, there are faces that hold the worst natures by an undefined attraction—a mingled goodness, and trust, and friendliness that look over from them; there are persons in whose bearing the Christian life is so evident, that they act with a silent, effortless power on every one in their neighbourhood. But a dozen boys are not always in direct contact with this will, the eyes cannot be always fixed on them; they will draw much together, their common evil habits will be a ready bond; if they are left without employment their energies will run to evil, secret at first, until it becomes strong enough to be defiant. Personal influence is indispensable in a reformatory; but it is indirectly felt, it operates through other agencies; not being able to come into immediate contact with everybody at every time, it penetrates the whole life, its occupations and conditions, and in any moment of contact afforded, it secures that it shall be felt and acknowledged as a real power. And if it were even practicable to work directly by personal influence alone, it would be dangerous, for it would foster such an entire dependence, that when the lad should leave his teacher, he would break also with the good that had been wrought in him; he would be unable to stand alone. The Christian element in the Rauhe Haus afforded the sure, and as it appeared, the easiest and simplest foundation for a new and independent, because permanent life; the training and the personal influence were made to foster that life, to give it vigour that it might abide and increase when removed from the school into the world. But other means were needed to act on these ill-starred, deformed, unhealthy natures. They could bear little of positive schooling; they could bear still less the perils of idleness. It might be very sentimental and pretty to have a kindly man watching the gambols of young Hamburgh reprobates through three-fourths of the day, and to think of the beautiful atmosphere of love in which they lived, and to contrast all this with their old hardships; but it would be downright folly. They must have employment, and a sense of order, and get to know the law of our tenure of the earth, that it is work, service. And therefore work at once suggested itself to Wichern as a necessity, however difficult it might be to bring into submission such wilful and vagabond beings as he had invited out to Horn.

The first difficulty was overcome by his happy blending of a moral purpose with the work. As banks of earth overgrown with low shrubs and brushwood, about six feet high and as many broad, ran round two sides of the ground to a length of five hundred feet, it was proposed that this should be entirely removed, so that every one might see that "the Rauhe Haus was a house of love, that it suffers no ramparts, nor walls, nor bolts, because the love of Christ binds faster than ramparts, or walls, or bolts," and that "they were not hid in corners, but flung open their life before men and before God." They went at it with a will; the thought took hold of them pleasantly; and in their eagerness to have the levelling completed, they often wrought far on into the winter evenings by lamplight, and in spite of snow and rain. By the 25th of January 1834, their work was completed with great joy; and thus the grounds remain with no blank height of stone such as fences in our prison-like charities, with no barrier whatever, but with open doors and unfenced paths. They might wander out if they chose; it was all wide and free before them; but the story has proved that "no wall is the strongest wall where the Spirit of Christ is." However, there were days when it was impossible to go out of doors, and when the frost had bound up the earth, they were driven to new resources for employing the time. At first there was no little perplexity, for the premises were small, and the twelve lads were active, and now that they had got into the way, were willing. But there was a Canadian poplar that found no favour in Wichern's eyes:—"It is such a fickle, meaningless, shadeless tree," he says, "who can like it? It looks for all the world like an embodied anguish." Still, the worst is not bad, and on the proposal to cut it down every eye and hand grew eager. Once down, it was soon split up, and a certain W. assayed his hand to make it into wooden shoes, and having succeeded after an abortive effort in the region of the toes, E. and G. set to the manufacture of lucifer matches, and others to the cutting out of spoons. There was no marked success for a little; but it drew out their confidence, made them conscious of what they could do, and opened a field for their cleverness, and was the beginning of many a good work that they undertook long after.

Through the winter the busy workers laboured on; some more daring than the rest produced brushes and hooks, and it was not long till one audacious mind spent its energy on a bedstead which is still extant and useful, though irregular in its design, and which was so quickly improved, as that within two years a bedstead could be made for one-fifth of what it then cost. When the spring drew near, a lad was found who knew something of country life, and with his help and a few hints from a friendly neighbour, seed was sown and trees were planted. Moreover, as they grew rich in winged stock, a fowl-house was erected, and a bee-house stood out in the sunshine, and a little kid made its way to the stall; and one morning a well-proportioned and stately cow, gaily crowned with flowers, walked lowing softly and ringing its bell as it went up to the door; and a donkey and cart followed; and then the boys would bake their own bread, and build an oven from which the loaves •were turned out fresh and crisp for many a year. [The kid was a present from an old Danish colonel; the cow, with an entire milking and dairy apparatus, minus a dairymaid, was a gift from some ladies in Hamburgh.] Certain schooling besides went diligently forward, and with great progress in reading, and writing, and singing, and other such simple lore.

Meanwhile, applications were made for the receiving of boys, young men rather, from fifteen to twenty years of age, whom everybody had given up; and when some were received, more were preparing without, and there was no room. Four-fifths had been bred up by godless and reckless parents who had bartered away their families for their own pleasures; one of them had thus four so-called fathers and three mothers living at the same time; he had been passed, sold probably, from one to the other. It was sad to hear the story, and refuse. And the boys with one consent hurrahed the proposal that they should build for themselves, and leave the old house to new comers. It was a serious undertaking, for people don't build houses just by instinct. It was done, however, and is standing to this day. The good Syndic Sieveking laid the foundation-stone in fair spring weather; a hundred thousand stones were laid over that; in April the gable was crowned with the needful fir-tree, and while its ribbons streamed out toward the sunset, one Botschinger climbed beside it, and, with hat in one hand and a paper in the other, began his oration. Excellent homely verses they were, though being but a polisher of floors and not an orator, he somewhat untowardly read them from the end. Yet they were received with much applause, and the building advanced so rapidly, that in July the boys marched into it in procession, while the organ, which had been given by a friend, pealed a hymn out of the lower storey.

There were now thirty-two boys, and so much the more need for work, and about this time a cry came into the Rauhe Haus from others. There had been no provision made for girls, and a piteous and clamant supplication was raised for them. A mother begged for her daughter of eleven years, who stole the very sheet from her grandmother's dying bed; a girl was applied for, whose father had been schoolmaster, land-steward, butcher, finally murderer, and who had left his daughter little better than a brute. Wichern had a sister who would take charge of them. If a house were built they could be taken in, and there would be work, and the boys would not have all their washing and sewing and knitting, and cooking and chambering, to do for themselves. So again they arose up to build, and with more ambition than hitherto they projected not only a dwelling-house for twelve, but a chapel, and kitchen, and wash-house, &c, all under the same roof. Botschinger made his oration from the beginning this time, and the first family of girls was soon housed under the thatch of the old house. They were more unmanageable than the boys. "I have never seen," says Wichern, "so downrightly wicked a spirit in the boy as in the girl." They would clench their fists and roll their eyes wildly, and gnash their teeth in paroxysms of passion. There was no reasoning with them: they would abide by their shrill, "I will not;" or they would stamp with their feet and cry, "I'd be quiet if I could only once let all the devil out of me." They were addicted to poetry of the vilest order, improvised ballads about "a beautiful young lady who sat imprisoned in the Rauhe Haus," made horrible travesties of the hymns, were the foremost in ridicule and profanity. And yet, not quite a year after their entrance, they with one exception gave evidence of the power of the Word of God.

And now it happened the artisan faculties of the older members were requiring more scope, and the coming boys more elbow-room, than the workshop could afford. It had been a stable at first with tumble-down walls, and so small that two people were sorely in each other's way, and their carpentry was done with borrowed tools; it had been changed to an old greenhouse, and then to the lower rooms of the Swiss House, and many an honest piece of workmanship had left them, many a wooden spoon and pair of slippers, and door and window-frame, and bedstead and bench, but it was too small. Here were the carpenters, and there were the shoemakers, and yonder the tailors ; and the least practised eye could mark a great confusion. It was like the families in St. Giles, who lived tolerably in the same room, one in each corner, and one in the middle, till this middle-one took in a lodger. So the peasants that passed by into Hamburgh saw one day the roof of a workshop eighty feet long, and on the gable the gallant Botschinger, who was by this time perfect in his vocation, and enlarged with great delight upon the works that might be expected of the future; and under this roof there has been no unnecessary crowding, but shoemakers, basket-makers, tailors, wool-spinners, carpenters, and all the rest, do their spiriting gently and in order. In 1839, it was found that the room used for the common worship was inadequate, and that the only remedy was to build a separate chapel; for about seventy persons required seats. It was completed before the winter, and opened by a missionary meeting; somewhat cold and bleak-looking at first, and too large almost, but it was soon furnished, and became one of the cheeriest of the rooms, while a bell (the gift of a friend) round which ran the legend, "God the Lord is sun and shield," pealed out from a low, wooden turret over the middle, and the organ pealed within. Next year they built again; for the tenants of the Swiss House had become so many, that Wichern hints they were like the children in the market-place of Jerusalem (Matt. xi. 17), and if the one family wanted to laugh the other wanted to weep; they were in fact uncomfortably near neighbours, and used to beseech Mr. Wichern: "Oh, do, please, let us live separate." So a new building rose up, and still the old were full.

About this time the printing-press of the Rauhe Haus came into operation. The first sheet struck off was the 23d Psalm. It is a famous press now, and employs many clever heads and nimble fingers, and the boys print every month thousands of those Fliegende Blatter that for the last sixteen years have borne such holy and sagacious, and blessed messages over all Germany, and far beyond Germany ; and they print one can scarcely remember how many books besides, books of worth and piety and eager welcome, and those charming pictures of Otto Speckter's, and I know not what else —for they offer, Rauhe Haus boys as they are, to print anything, and whoever is fortunate enough to have the Memoir of Miss Sieveking, or one of the Vierzig Bilder mit Versen, or any of the recent issues, will admit the remarkable merits of their work. But a digression in this direction is dangerous, and I shall return to the 23d Psalm, which had been only issued, when on the 5th day of May 1842, long spurts of flame were seen to shoot up over the roofs of Hamburgh, and through the heavy and still air the columns of fire rose higher, and leapt about the tall church spires, and when the night fell it was like a lurid day, for over the city there hung a broad red sea of flame. All through the night, and on into the day, it burned; and the roads were choked with weeping and distracted people, and vehicles filled with household goods,— lost children wandering with helpless cries, and sisters crying for brothers,—men driven mad by the calamity, many half-clothed, just as they had hurriedly escaped, and many stripped of their entire fortunes, every one anxious about another, —miserable groups sheltering coldly behind the ditches, and armed bands of plunderers making the confusion more terrible; while away from the city, there was borne the ceaseless mingled roar of fire and voices and crashing houses. The night sunk in flames once more ; new streets caught up the fatal glow, and when the day broke it was still over a burning city; a third night, and the fire spread wider; buildings were ruined and blown up in vain; a slight change in the light wind threatened another quarter; the ashes floated in a dark cloud overhead, and fell hot through the streets, and when the fourth day broke, it was on Hamburgh in ruins. In the Rauhe Haus also there was lamentation ; the boys had friends or relatives (such as they were) under that cloud of flame. Numbers of them went in to give their help. The doors were thrown open to the poor starving outcasts who lined the way. The chapel was filled with men, women, children, poor, rich, lost ones and found ones, those who wept tears of anguish and those who wept tears of joy. As the boys returned with tidings, each seemed a worse messenger than the other. At length days went by, and the fire was stayed; and notwithstanding the license of the time, the boys not only remained firm to the trust reposed in them, but received the public thanks of the Senate for their help in putting down the fire. But the fire added to the responsibilities of the House, by adding greatly to the class from which it was filled. Twenty-five children were received in a short time, and again there came the necessity of building. A house was completed for twenty-four girls, and the old house was vacated for a new family of boys. Other buildings were added: a new laundry and bakery, offices, houses for new boys, a house for Wichern in 1852, and in the same year, the largest of all the houses, a pensionat for boys of the same incorrigible habits as those who fill up a reformatory, but of a better standing in society. Upwards of two hundred parents had entreated that their sons might receive instruction in the Rauhe Haus; it was at last felt impossible to reject these urgent petitions, and a boarding school was opened for twelve. The last addition was made in 1853, when a new family was formed in a new, and by far the most complete building for the purpose.

The old Rauhe Haus has thus grown to be twenty separate houses, the old patch of garden round the fish-pond has spread out into fifty acres, the twelve boys have multiplied into 395, and 114 girls fall to be added to them. Hundreds of helpers—brothers is the pleasant word for them—have been trained and distributed over the prisons, and reformatories, and city missions of the Continent; offshoots from this parent institution have been planted from north to south of Germany; a vast organization called the Inner Mission, has been spread over the country, restoring the decayed forms of Christian social life, and rescuing the outcast, and building up the Church; almost every town of importance has its "brother" busying himself among its lanes and hardened criminals. Mettray has not been above learning from the Rauhe Haus, nor has Red Hill. It issues a paper of the highest influence on social questions, and with a monthly circulation of 6000; it has established a religious bookshop in Hamburgh, with agencies through the country, principally in Prussia ; it has a publishing house of its own for promoting a healthy Christian literature among the working men and the middle classes; and through all it carries on its special training, and every year sends out into the world steady sensible men, and modest helpful women, who, but for it, would have filled the prisons, and died miserable in that semi-savage state in which it found them. It has a high place, moreover, in the world, draws visitors from every country, is studied by wise and thoughtful men, and names of note and wide respect are associated with many of its quiet activities. Kings and Queens of Prussia and Denmark and Bavaria, Archdukes and Archduchesses of Austria, Grand Dukes and Grand Duchesses, and Royal Princes and Princesses, have been found standing among the children and questioning earnestly how such results were brought to pass; and of as high but natural a royalty, there have moved among them such as Elizabeth Pry, who once spoke in the chapel for an hour in her own clear, sweet, persuasive way. And the germ of its entire work, and the cause of this notoriety, is to be found in that October evening, when Wichern and his mother drew towards the little house in Horn, and shut themselves in and prayed that God would build up his work on the foundation of Jesus Christ; and it is characteristic of the man, that whatever he has accomplished since, is traceable in the speech he made as a young candidate nearly thirty years ago. He has been but filling in the outline. He has been acting out his principles. These buildings, and new and distant efforts, and these hundred and ten boys and forty brothers represent a large expenditure. Societies with all their appliances would not accomplish more ; it would be tasked and burdened to obtain the money. When his position and circumstances and object were all against him, how is it that he succeeded? It has been a standing question, "How did you get all the money?" "At the beginning," he replies, "we had to ask that question in another form, How shall we get all the money? and we had to answer it before going farther. Silver and gold," he frankly confesses, ''I have none. But we work, and God blesses our work. And whatever else we want we pray for, and expect out of His rich hand, in certain faith that it is a faithful and true word He spoke when He pointed us to the fowls of the air, and the lilies of the field. Whoever will hold this faith, and abide in it by the grace of God, will have a marvellous watch kept over him even at this day; and what appears natural to others, will come to him as a witness of the heavenly kingdom in which he has been set, and for which Christ has opened the eyes and ears and heart of his people." Let us see how the facts sustain this, and whether we can learn from them what it means.

The circumstances of the foundation are already familiar to our readers. The meetings for prayer and the unexpected answer; the rapidity with which money and land were furnished, although no one had been asked but God. Some years had passed when the chapel became necessary. There were willing hands to build, but there was no money, nor any prospect of available funds. The inconveniences were daily greater; the children, whom they had begged from God, were coming ; it was impossible to thrust them out, but they encroached on the spare room, and the family life was threatened with disorder. Yet there was the feeling, the faith, that He who had sent the children would not forsake them there ; and just at the time when the need and difficulties were most pressing, a sum of several thousand marks was received from some American friends, and the building was begun. A house was wanted to relieve one already overcrowded. It was put off as long as possible, for these willing Rauhe Haus hands were also very empty. Then it was prayed for that the means would be given. And as Wichern sat one evening with two early friends, the question was suddenly started, how much a house for twelve boys would cost, and on the sum being stated, one of them promised it. Thus the house was built, but money failed for windows and doors and paint; and just before the work came to a stand-still, enough was received for its completion; for three ladies in a distant country, and independently of one another, had been led to think that the cost might exceed the estimate, and the result was these seventy-five crowns. In 1843, the lease of the tillage ground ran out, meadow, corn, and potato fields were gone, and it became necessary to purchase instead of to rent. There was a suitable piece of land to be sold for 7000 marks. These sixteen acres were absolutely necessary to the existence of the institution; on the other hand, 3000 marks of the purchase-money had to be paid down in hard coin, and there was not a penny in the exchequer. It was laid very simply before God; it was determined at length in His name to buy. A few days after, a person who was ignorant of all this, came with the information that Mrs. Pronotary Schulter had bequeathed 3000 marks to the Rauhe Haus, and that the money was ready. "Just look," was the quaint saying of a friend at the time; "just look! we no sooner make our purchase in faith, than the Lord stands behind us with the purse to pay the bill." The year of the fire brought grave responsibilities. It was likely that many friends would be unable to give through their own losses; the demands on charity were greatly increased; where there were so many beggars, it was not improbable the Rauhe Haus would be overlooked, and its own charity during that terrible time have exhausted its means. The simple and ordinary expedient would be to close the door, and hear nothing of the cry from without until better times came; and even this would be only a remedy on the surface, for there was no support assured to those who were already inmates. But this year the applications for children were more numerous, pitiful, and urgent than ever; six were received from burnt-out families alone; the House incurred a larger expenditure, and the result was, that there was scarce any diminution of the subscriptions from Hamburgh, while from Bremen, and Frankfort, and Wurtemberg, and Holland, new friends poured in their contributions.

To take a final instance. The year 1853 was one of excessive need, and a critical period for the House; 8000 marks were wanted for the necessary expenses; there were various mutterings without. "Where is now your God ? Now, they will go down. Now, we shall see what will become of the fine piety and living by faith." Friends were anything but sanguine. After thought and prayer, a brief statement was put into the Fliegende Blatter, and the result was awaited in patience. It was extraordinary. A poor clergyman in Silesia sent half-a-dozen teaspoons; his wife, a necklace, and ten half farthings from some beggar children whom she taught sewing. Some poor widows in Hamburgh sent twenty-eight Hamburgh shillings; an artisan from East Prussia twenty francs, with Matt. xxv. 31-46, and this written, " The Lord who clothes the lilies, will not forget the little ones of the Rauhe Haus;" a class of poor children in the Duchy of Mark, thirty half-farthings; a circle of poor children in Berlin, fifteen shillings. "Thanks," wrote one round a fifty-mark note, "for the strengthening of our faith by the Rauhe Haus." "My mother," wrote another, ''read the Fliegende Blatter yesterday, and told me to seal up ten crowns directly and send it. 'Will you be able in these hard times?' 'He who has sustained me sixty-four years, and given me more than I need, will not desert me now. Send it in faith.' " A miner from Freiburg in Saxony sent, greeting the whole house, and saying, that down where he was, more than a hundred yards under the earth, there were hearts and hands raised to the Lord for it. From a poor Hamburgh washerwoman there came nine groschen; and in a scarce legible hand: "I knew you long, though you are not likely to know me; and I have been saving long that I might send some pence for the dear children." And a child wrote, "I have no more money in my saving-box. I want to send something. I have learned to knit. I and brother have knitted a pair of stockings." Thus that faith was answered; and out of the children's farthings and the rich men's pounds, there was received within three months three times as much as was required.

These facts have been selected, because taken together, they show fairly how the house was built. Each house has its separate history, the history of prayer and simple faith. A Bremen merchant may have given the money for one, and a prince of Schonburg for another, and the charity of a young lady visitor may have raised a third; and the way in which these gifts came is quite natural and explicable; and the way in which the money was furnished in these instances that have been related, and which might easily be multiplied, is also quite natural, and you might say only a series of striking coincidences. But their peculiar feature is, that they invariably followed prayer. Some singular coincidences and unexpected aids may be passed over; they happen to every one. But why, whenever there is necessity for the prayer of faith, should one of these singular coincidences succeed the utterance of that prayer? Why should this happen with the regularity of a law? There is no disarrangement of ordinary laws, there is no departure from ordinary circumstances; leave prayer out of the story and one might say, perhaps, "It is very singular," and there would be no occasion to say more. But it is the introduction of prayer that removes the circumstances from the region of mere coincidence and happy accident; that shows them to be illustrations of a fixed and orderly law. The answer to prayer may come about as the most natural thing in the world, for hints thrown out in. conversation, or the visit of a wealthy friend, or the natural impulses of pity, by the operation of everyday motives and situations and events, and to those who watch it from without, it is an everyday matter. But "the secret of the Lord is with them that fear him;" they know that they are receiving that for which they asked, and that unobtrusively as it comes, it comes by prayer. It is the existence of such a law and the belief of it, which make it possible to establish by faith a mission like Gossner, or a reformatory like Wichern. As the Rauhe Haus was built, so it stands. People think it has a floating capital. Tell them no, and they point incredulously to the 200 inmates, and its order and neatness, and the garden and crowd of various roofs half seen through the trees, and the rich fields stretching away towards Wandsbeck, and they say, 'People's eyes are not blind; you can't throw dust into them; the town must make a secret subsidy; all that can't be kept up for nothing." Prayer is nothing to such persons ; and to tell them that it is kept up not by secret subsidies or interest of capital, but by waiting on the Lord who provides, will always provoke an unbelieving stare or a sneer. Yet such is the fact.

There are small annual sums paid by some benevolent persons for a few of the children; boys are taken into the pensionat as into any boarding-school; there are gifts from friends which amount to a yearly average of about 5000 marks. But as the expenditure is over 32,000 marks, by far the largest part of it has to be met from other sources. These are three. The land is tilled without any hired labour, and entirely with the spade; it produces in favourable years twenty tons of hay for the cattle, besides corn, potatoes, rape, peas, beans, cabbage, and every kind of good vegetables, as well as apples, pears, cherries, plums, and "whatever else God permits to grow, on our fruit trees." The clothes are all made in the house, the bread baked there, carpenter's and other needful household work is done by the boys. For what remains, there is the third source, viz., that the Lord who blesses their labour, and gives them the fruits of the earth, will also open men's hearts, and bestow on them through human agencies, and even unexpectedly, whatever is lacking. They are thus kept continually looking to Him, for they are never out of want, although they are never destitute. It is a common thing for the housekeeper to say to Wichern in the morning, or midday, or at the end of the month, ''I have no more money to pay the reckonings;" and before the evening, or before the next month begins, he has received what was needed. Is this credible? Is it consistent with the relation between our life and God? Is it not fanatical? The most satisfactory and the briefest answer is the Rauhe Haus, as any one may see it for himself. "I know," says Wiehern, "that it seems to many wrong or even dangerous for a household, where hundreds must be daily fed, to have no more laid up than the sparrows. It is true, also, that whoever will remain sure of the power and riches of his faith must have learned it and felt it and lived it. But whoever lives it and feels it, the treasure-chambers of our heavenly Father lie open to him, and he has but to take in order to be inwardly certain that our God is a living God and Saviour of the body and the soul. Such is the hope and comfort with which we meet the future. As I write, we are in urgent need; our need has no end; but then we know the better how the Lord alone is our help. I do not mean that in this respect ours is a special house, that other families do not enjoy the same care as our own. But I believe that whatever Christian household or person trusts the Lord utterly, and suffers Him to be the only God and Saviour, although it be out of great faltering and weakness, that household or person shall never want, but shall have all it wants, even if it should obtain it through daily need and peril."


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