Charles Hamilton Smith.

Memoirs of John Frederic Oberlin, pastor of Waldbach, in the Ban de la Roche online

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Online LibraryCharles Hamilton SmithMemoirs of John Frederic Oberlin, pastor of Waldbach, in the Ban de la Roche → online text (page 1 of 18)
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The peculiar delight with which the writer
perused the interesting article respecting John
Frederic Oberlin, in the Eclectic Review for
October, 1827, first induced her to think of
compiling a more extended memoir of that ex-
traordinary man; and she considers it only
due to sincerity to make this acknowledg-
ment, as the following pages contain much of
M. Lutteroth's " Notice," there translated by
Mr. Conder's abler pen.

The facility with which she has been enabled

to cany her design into execution, through the

kindness of several individuals who readily



supplied her with valuable documents and papers
relative to the subject, claims her most cordial

She is particularly obliged to P. J. Heisch,
Esq., a friend of long standing in Oberlin's
family, and a gentleman distinguished by his
many benevolent exertions in this his adopted
country, for the polite manner in which he
furnished her with materials fi'om personal re-
collection, autograph sermons, and interesting
communications fi'om Strasbourg. To her
highly valued friend Dr. SteinkopfF, she is in-
debted for the correction of her German transla-
tions, and to the Rev. Francis Cunningham, for
the use he kindly allowed her to make of various
memoranda and letters, written during a short
residence in the Ban de la Roche, in the sum-
mer of 1820, and also for a number of original
papers and MSS. respecting Mr. Oberlin.

It is to the kindness of these friends indeed,
and that of Mrs. Cunningham, whose able
pencil has supplied her sketches, that the volume
chiefly owes whatever of interest it may


contain ; and, while gratefully acknowledging the
sources whence she has derived her materials,
the editor is happy to add that it has under-
gone the revision of one whose personal ac-
quaintance with Oberlin, and the knowledge he
possessed of his character, both as a benefactor
to his country and an eminent servant of God,
peculiarly qualified him for the task. Under
the sanction of this dear friend her Memoir
meets the public eye.*

The works from which such parts as are not
original are chiefly translated or taken, are
Mr. Wilks's little narrative, entitled " The Ban
de la Roche and its Benefactor;" M. Lutteroth's
" Notice sur Jean Frederic Oberlin," already
alluded to; the same work in German, with
additions, by M. KrafFt; " Promenades Alsa-
ciennes, par M. Merlin;" and " Rapport fait a
la Societe Royale et Centrale d' Agriculture, par

* Although the names of the Rev. Daniel Wilson, Dr. Macbride,
and William Allen, Esq., may not have been so particularly men-
tioned, the editor trusts they will accept the assurance of her
grateflil thanks, for their kindness in the loan of books and journals
for reference.



M. le Comte Francois de Neufch^teaii, sur
I'agriculture, et la civilisation du Ban de la

The editor can scarcely suppose that any one
will peruse the following recital of the astonish-
ing change effected in the morals and condition
of the little flock committed to Oberlin's pas-
toral care, and of the unremitting labours of
love which, for a period of fifty years, were
crowned with such signal success, without feel-
ing an earnest desire that the benefit of those
labours should, if possible, be extended and

The difficulty of obtaining a pastor equally
zealous in the discharge of his ministerial func-
tions; equally distinguished for his singular
benevolence; and equally devoted to the task
of diffusing among a remote and unenlightened
people the Gospel of peace and salvation, may
lead many persons to suppose this impracticable ;
and so it undoubtedly is to a certain degree.
His schools, however, which upon abundant
evidence have been productive of the greatest


good, might be carried on, provided funds
sufficient for their support could be obtained.
During his life time several of them, especially
the ecoles a tricoter, were under the superintend-
ance of conductrices, who either voluntarily
devoted themselves to the task of instruction,
or were salaried at his own expense. They are
gone, with their beloved and revered pastor, to
their eternal rest, and hired persons must now
be employed in their place. This involves the
necessity of an increase of funds beyond the
means of a poor and isolated parish ; and the
principal end that the editor has in view, in
the publication of this Memoir, is the hope
that the emoluments arising from its sale, will
enable her to contribute towards a subscription,
already set on foot, for the purpose of forming
establishments in the Ban de la Roche in com-
memoration of Oberhn's exertions, and on a
similar plan to the schools he originally founded.
It will also, she trusts, make the subject more
generally known. The following extract, trans-
lated from the " Compte rendu des sous-
criptions recueillies," will explain the nature of
these intended establishments.


After having spoken of the sepulchral monu-
ment, erected to his memory in the parish
church of Waldbach, the writer of the article
in question continues :

" We must now refer to the subscriptions set
on foot for a charitable foundation, bearing the
name of Oberlin.

** We were, for a long time, undecided in our
opinion respecting the best manner of employing
the funds already collected. The example of
our deceased friend, who always preferred utility
to display, and the advice of some of the best
informed inhabitants of the Ban de la Roche,
who are extremely anxious to promote the
institution of condiictrices, have at length enabled
us to come to a determination. It is to the
enlargement and completion of this admirable
institution, conceived at first by the late M.
Stouber, and organized and brought into ac-
tivity by Oberlin, that we intend to appropriate
the funds already collected, and what may be
in future received. For it is to this institution
that that love of order and industry, those


feelings of filial and fraternal piety, and that
religious spirit by which the present generation
in this interesting country is distinguished, are
chiefly owing. We think, therefore, that no
monument can be more worthy of bearing the
name of our late excellent pastor than an
institution, in which he was so particularly
interested, upon an enlarged scale. For the
information of our readers we will give a slight
sketch of this institution. In each of the five
villages and three hamlets entrusted to Oberlin's
pastoral care, he placed a person of matm^e
age, whom he denominated a conductrice.
It was her duty to assemble together all the
children of the village, under seven years of
age, once a week, for three or four hours, and
to give them instruction. Having been herself
previously initiated, through the kind assistance
of Mr. and Mrs. Oberlin, in the branches of
knowledge best adapted to the purpose, she
taught the children by turns whatever appeared
most suited to their respective age and capacity.
The elder boys were taught to card wool and
cotton, and the girls to spin, sew, and knit ;
even the youngest children were employed in


picking cotton. Dining the hours of labour,
their conductrice related and explained to them
such little stories from the Bible, or pleasing
anecdotes in natural history, as were likely to
suit their comprehension, and to direct their
attention to the wise and superintending care
of Providence, in the ordering of every event ;
to the beauty and harmony which reigns
throughout his works ; and to the affection and
respect which they ought to cherish towards
their parents and superiors. She also taught
them to chant and repeat hynnis ; instructed
them in the rudiments of botany, and gave them
useful infonnation on every subject likely to
conduce to their advantage in friture hfe.

" The principles of love to God and devoted-
ness to his service, and the germs of moral
excellence thus early implanted in their hearts,
proved of incalculable benefit to them as they
grew up ; and their happiness became fixed on
a basis which neither the storms nor \dcissitudes
of life had power to distm'b.

" The children, so far from being weary of


these weekly meetings, listened with the deepest
interest to the instructions they there received ;
counted the days till their return, and were
delighted with the thought of their approach.
Having been thus prepared by early discipline,
they were admitted, at the age of seven, into the
higher schools ; where the elder girls assisted
the conductrices in their labours, by teaching
needlework, knitting, &c.

" By the united labours of many individuals,
this institution, so simple in its origin, became
of incalculable advantage in the Ban de la
Roche, and excited and strengthened mutual
good will, benevolence, and friendship, among
the inhabitants of the district. There was,
however, one great disadvantage attached to it.
The poor conductrices, compelled to earn their
own subsistence by the labours of their hands,
could only afford to appropriate one day in the
week to the purpose. In the interval that
elapsed between the meetings, many of their
instructions were consequently effaced from the
minds of their little pupils, or, at least, the
impression they had made at the time was in


some degree obliterated. Great improvements
were, nevertheless, certainly effected; and we
are ready to suppose that the benefit would be
exceedingly enhanced, if it were possible for the
lessons to be repeated five or six times every
week, with sufficient variations in the arrange-
ment to prevent monotony.

" The scantiness of Oberlin's pecuniary means
did not allow him to carry on this mode of
instruction to the extent he could have wished,
although it was the object of his constant and
earnest solicitude. Let us, therefore, endeavour
to do so ; and to crown his labom's, by putting
into full execution those benevolent plans which
his experience and knowledge of human nature
led him to conceive. An annual salary of a
hundred francs, for each of the conductrices,
would allow the children to meet every day of
the week. May we not hope for sufficient funds
to cover this expense ?

" The Ban de la Roche would then present
the model of a simple village institution, of the
greatest utihty to tlie morality and well-being


of its inhabitants. Such an example would not
be lost upon the neighbouring districts. They
would imitate it ; and thus we should have the
satisfaction of promoting an object in which our
late beloved pastor took so pecuhar an interest,
and of raising a lasting monument to his me-
mory." *

Mr. Legrand, a gentleman whose name will
frequently appear in this volume, as the active
and benevolent coadjutor of Oberlin, writes from
Waldbach, in August last : —

*' The subscriptions now amount to 7,876
francs. If we could raise 12,000 francs, the
interest of that sum would be sufficient for the

Four thousand francs, or 160/. remain, there-
fore to be subscribed ; and it is earnestly to be

* Subscriptions are received by Messrs. Legrand, Foudui, Ban de
la Roche ; Messrs. Treuttel and Wiirtz, Rue de Bourbon, Paris ;
Ditto, Strasbourg; Messrs. P. J. Heiscb & Co., 159, Fenchurcli Street,
London. It is perhaps scarcely necessary to add tliat donations
presented for any specific object, independantly of the schools, as the
disti-ibution of Bibles, or the benefit of the parish at large, will be
faithfully appropriated according to the wishes of the contributors.


wished that all who are desirous of perpetuating
to future generations the influence of Oberlin's
beneficent exertions, and the remembrance of
the example, which, like the mantle of Elijah,
he has left behind him for the encouragement
of others, may, according to their respective
abilities, contribute towards raising so compa-
ratively small a sum.



Preliminary Remarks —Account of the Ban de la Roche

— Its state previous to M. Stouber's time — Stouber's

exertions there 1


Oberlin's birth and childhood — Instances of his early
benevolence — His act of self-dedication — Influence
over others — Arrival in the Ban de la Roche ... 20


Oberlin's first impressions on reaching Waldbach — State
of the Parish — Improvements needed — Opposition
manifested by the peasantry — Correspondence with
M. Stouber — Letters from the latter — His marriage;
and prayer — Improvements in the condition of the
Roads — Agricultural improvements, &c 42



Oberlin's address to his parishioners on the commence-
ment of a new year — Erection of a new school-house
in the Ban de la Roche— Progress of civilization —
Four other school-houses erected— Introduction of
infant schools, under the care of conductrices —
Public schools — Weekly assembling of the children
at Waldbach, to receive religious instruction —
Establishment of a circulating library — Almanack —
Specimen of the childrens' composition — Christian
Society established in 1782 — Abrogation of that
Society 81


Death of Mrs. Oberlin — Its effect upon Oberlin's mind
— Louisa Schepler becomes his housekeeper — Letter
from the latter - Letter, taken from a German Maga-
zine, printed at Tubingen, containing an account of
Oberlin and his family, in the year 1793 — Death
of his eldest son, Frederic 117


Unmolested state of the Ban de la Roche during the
period of the Revolution — Oberlin's generous re-
nunciation of his own interests for the sake of his
parishioners — His school for the children of foreigners
— His sentiments respecting the payment of tithes —
Letter containing a plan for their disbursement —


Purchase of Assignats — His influence in excitincr a

spirit of Christian charity among his people — Ac-
count of Sophia Bernard, &c. — Oberhn becomes a
coiTespondent of the British and Foreign Bible
Society— Letters addressed by him to members of
the London Committee— Mode of collecting sub-
scriptions and donations for charitable purposes in
the Ban de la Roche— Letter to his scholars . . .140


Henry Oberlin's removal to Riga— His sister Hen-
rietta's marriage — Their return to Waldbach — Letter
from Oberlin to P. J. Heisch, Esq. — Letter from
Henry Oberlin to ditto — Mr. Legrand's settlement
in the Ban de la Roche — Litroduction of cotton-
spinning; silk ribbon manufactory, &c. — Termination
of a long impending law-suit— Henry Oberlin's death
— His father's resignation on that occasion displayed
in a letter to Mr. Heisch 18.-


Medal presented to Oberlin by the Royal Agricultural
Society of Paris— Oberlin's private character — His
description of himself — Mr. Owen's letter, containing
an account of a Ban de la Roche Sabbath — Oberlin's
ministry — Sermons — Ministerial labours, &c. — His
paternal influence over his flock— Questions ad-
dressed to his parishioners — Circulars 207




Oberlin's pastoral visits — Interview between Dr. and
Mrs. Steinkopff and the conductrice of Bellefosse —
Their visit to the cottage of Madeleine Kriiger :
also to that of Sophia Bernard — Letter written by

Mrs. C during a visit to the Ban de la Roche, in

the summer of 1820 — Letter from Mrs. Rauscher to
the Paris Bible Society, containing an account of the
death of Sophia Bernard, &c. — Amount of the sums
raised at different times at Waldbach, in support of
various charitable institutions 279


Oberlin's last illness and death — Letter respecting
Louisa Schepler, found after his decease — His fu-
neral — Prayer delivered upon that occasion — Frag-
ments of an address to his parishioners — Conclusion, 307


Oberlin's Portrait, to face Title Page

Oberlin's Residence 42

Louisa Schepler's Portrait 125

Legrand's Residence 296

Foudai Church 317





stouber's exertions there.

The memoirs of an individual, whose whole
life has been devoted to pious and disinterested
exertions for the temporal and spiritual good
of mankind, have not unfrequently proved the
means of awakening the desires, and strengthen-
ing the resolutions of others to follow him in
his career of benevolence.

Such an individual was John Frederic
Oberlin, a person whose indefatigable efforts



for upwards of fifty years, to benefit the simple
\allagers who constituted his flock, entitle him
to universal esteem and admiration. The waiter
earnestly hopes that the recital of his labours
may, under the di\ane blessing, tend to confinn
the zealous and encourage the weak, and
lead all who hear it to catch a portion of
that sacred glow by which he was himself

His character, as displayed in the uniform
tenor of his life, presented a remarkable com-
bination of varied excellencies ; for whilst much
exalted sanctity and intrepid zeal were con-
spicuous, an unwearied ardoiu- in doing good,
and a habitual willingness to renounce his own
interests to promote the well-being of his fellow-
creatures, were equally evident. In addition
to this, his extreme simplicity, conscientious
integrity, sweetness of temper, and refinement
of manner, caused him to be both ardently
loved and sincerely revered; whilst his industry,
his agricultural skill, his knowledge of rural
and domestic economy, and the energy with
which he carried his plans into effect the
moment he was convinced of their utility.


rendered him not only an example but a
blessing to the people among whom he resided,
and afforded a delightfid proof of the advan-
tages that may accrue from a union of secular
and spiritual duties.

Before I proceed with my narrative, it will
be proper to present the reader with some
description of the Ban de la Roche, the
scene of Oberlin's long and useful labours,
and to state what had been previously effected
there by his predecessor, M. Stouber, a
Lutheran minister of congenial spirit with

The Ban de la Roche, or Steinthal,* derives
its name from a castle called La Roche, round
which the Ban, or district, extends. It is a
mountainous canton in the north-east of France,
between Alsace and Lorraine, forming part of
the declivities and western ramifications of the
Haut Champ, or Champ de Feu, an isolated
range of mountains, detached by a deep valley
from the eastern boundary of the chain of the

* Steinthal is the German name for the Ban de la Roche. Its
literal signification is, the Valley of Stone. — Dr. Steinkopff.

B 2


Vosges. It consists of two parishes : the one
is Rothaii ; the other, inchiding three churches,
comprises the five hamlets of Foudai, Behnont,
Waldbach, Bellefosse, and Zolbach. These last
mentioned are almost exclusively inhabited by

The Champ de Feu, as its name implies,
bears traces of volcanic origin. It is higher
than Snowdon, rising 3600 feet above the level
of the sea. The village of Waldbach, at
which Oberlin resided on account of its central
situation, stands upon its acclivity, at the
height of 1800 feet ; and the usual road from
Strasbourg thither lies through the towns of
Molsheim, Mutzig, and Schirmeck. Behind
the little town of Schirmeck the extensive and
fertile valley in which it is situated, separates
into two smaller ones; the well-wooded vale
of Framont on the right, and that of the Ban
de la Roche, of which Rothau is the first and
principal parish, on the left. The approach to
the latter place is romantic in the extreme ;
the road winding down the side of a steep
precipice towards the southern side of the
valley, where, after crossing the stream, which


flows through its bottom in the character of
a mountain torrent, it rises again, and the
cottages of the peasantry become visible, partly
imbosomed in plantations of pine, and beneath
immense masses of overhanging rocks.*

The hamlet of Foudai, at the distance of
two miles from Rothau, is next in course, and
occupies an almost equally picturesque situation.
It is succeeded by Waldbach, whose tapering
spire and straw-thatched cottages are sur-
rounded by orchards of pear and cherry trees,
and by the intermingled foliage of the alder, the
ash, and the sallow. The temperature varies ex-
tremely, according to the height and position of
the districts. On the summits of the mountains,

* The mountains of the Ban de la Roche are composed of granite,
porphyry, and argillaceous scliistus, which are commonly even with
then- convex surface : sienite, trapp, and grunstein, projecting on the
sides and summits in irregular columns, and pointed cliiFs, appear
originally to have formed the general covering.

These rocks exhibit great variety in their grain and constituent
parts. The granite, which is coarse, and less compact towards the
base of the mountains, presents the fineness of marble, about 2,500
feet above the valley; in these regions it is also found without
quartz, taking the appearance of sienite or granite, according to the
arrangement of the mica and feldspar. — Wilks.

For further particulars relating to the topography of this district
See Propositions Gcologiques pour sen'ir, &c. Par H. G. Obei'lin
Doct. en Medecine. 8vo. Strasbourg, 1806.


for instance, the climate is as intensely cold as at
Petersburg!!, thongh in the valleys below it is
so soft and delightful as to resemble that of
Geneva, and parts of the Jura. The winter
months generally commence in September, and
the snow usually remains undissolved till the
following May or June, when the wind blows
from the south, thus leaving only a period of
four or five months for summer weather. The
produce of the canton necessarily varies with
the elevation of the several communes; the
highest are cultivated notwithstanding, though
to so little purpose, that it is said the wife
can carry home in her apron all the hay her
husband has mown in a long morning. The
harvest differs in time as well as in quantity.
At Foudai it is about a week later, and at
Waldbach a fortnight later, than at Rothau,
which is about 400 feet below.

The district of the Ban de la Roche comprises
about nine thousand acres (of 48,000 French
feet), between three and four thousand of which
are covered with wood, two thousand are occu-
pied with pasture, one thousand five hundred
are employed in meadows or garden land, and


the remaining fifteen hundred only are cultivated
with the plough.*

In the reign of Louis XV. the whole of this
territory was in a most desolate state ; for having
been partially the seat of conflict during the
thirty years' war (terminated in 1648), and again
in the time of Louis XIV. it was so laid waste as
to be scarcely habitable, there being no road
from one place to another, and but little land
under cultivation. About eighty or a hundred
families earned indeed a scanty subsistence on
its precarious soil, but, being destitute of all the
comforts of civilized life, they existed in a state
of misery and degradation, more easily conceived
than described.

This remote district partook, however, with
the rest of Alsace, in a privilege denied to

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Online LibraryCharles Hamilton SmithMemoirs of John Frederic Oberlin, pastor of Waldbach, in the Ban de la Roche → online text (page 1 of 18)