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A.D. 1660-1750.

A hundred years elapsed between the close of the great struggle which determined the boundaries and relations of Romanism and Protestantism in Germany, and the opening of that Seven Years' War in which Prussia first asserted her rivalry with Austria for the leadership of their common race. It was a dreary period in German story. Politically the empire had fallen asunder into a number of separate despotic little states; and the sentiment of national unity had become so nearly extinct, that the loss of the fertile and beautiful Alsace to France seems to have been viewed with wonderful indifference, and the achievements of a general like Prince Eugene only roused a little personal admiration for himself. Socially the life of the people had greatly deteriorated. The rural population was terribly diminished in numbers and wealth; their means of communication were restricted by the destruction of their horses and the neglect of the roads; their schools had disappeared, and were but very slowly replaced; their new houses and churches were bare and barn-like compared to the old ones; their periodical gatherings for certain purposes 257 of local self-government or for festivities had fallen into disuse. It was a vegetating sort of existence, and the writers of the following age bear testimony to the illiterateness and coarseness of manners which prevailed towards the end of the seventeenth century, even among the gentry of the country districts. In the towns things were but little better. The commerce of Germany had received a serious check; her merchant princes had sunk to the level of petty traders, and adopted the manners and culture of the latter class. Her old free cities were decaying; only a few of the newer ones were growing, and what intellectual life then existed, centred in them, as at Hamburg or Berlin, or at the court of any sovereign who specially protected letters, or still more at the universities. But throughout this period Germany contributes only one really great name to literature--that of Leibnitz; while in France it was the age of Louis XIV. and XV., of military glory and social brilliancy, of Racine and Molière, of Fénélon and Bossuet, of Bayle and Voltaire. And so German men and women found their own life mean and tiresome, and were carried away by admiration of their splendid neighbour, till it became the fashion to imitate whatever was French in manners, dress, or tone of thought, and the very language was wretchedly corrupted by the intermixture of French phrases. Frederick the Great was the first hero to the German people at large who roused in them anew a pride in their own country, yet he himself ostentatiously despised it, and preferred France. Of course there was another class, of which his father may be taken as the type, who hated foreign ways and upheld whatever 258 was most antiquated and unrefined as peculiarly German; but in general the tide set in favour of the foreigners. The pastoral school was an imitation of the Italians; the French were now the great models, and very unfortunate ones for a people whose natural genius was so totally different. German literature reached its lowest ebb under these influences, and one of the earliest signs of its revival was a rebellion against French classicism, and an admiration for our Shakespeare and Milton.

Old Lutheranism

Religion suffered under the same depression. On the one hand was a rigid Lutheranism, which had petrified what had once been living convictions into dead dogmas, and which gave its whole attention to controversies about definitions of doctrines in which the people had ceased to feel a genuine interest. On the other was a genteel indifference, which idolized "enlightenment" (the favourite watchword of the eighteenth century), and indemnified itself for its compliance with certain outward observances by laughing at the whole affair in private. Rabener, a satirist of this period, when characterising the earlier part of the eighteenth century, says, "There was a time in Germany when no satire could be witty at the expense of anything but the Bible, and there were lively heads which had, so to speak, a complete satirical concordance in readiness, that their wit might never run dry. . . . If a groom is conscious of possessing a more cultivated mind than the dairymaid, he startles her by a jest on some text or hymn. All the servants scream with laughter, all admire him, down to the very cowboy, and the poor dairymaid, who is not so witty, stands there abashed."

Early Pietism

259It was against all this formalism and indifference that the reaction towards a more spiritual and living faith took place, which is known by the name of Pietism. In many points this movement resembled that of Methodism in England, but it preceded it by seventy years. Like Methodism, it laid great stress on the necessity of the new birth; it prohibited certain amusements and modes of life which had been hitherto considered as at least harmless; and it encouraged private assemblies of Christian persons for purposes of edification, such as the study of the Scriptures or the interchange of spiritual experiences. Like Methodism, too, it encountered at first no little ridicule, and even persecution. It was accused of being an attempt to found a new sect, and vehemently opposed on this ground; but, unlike Methodism, though it might here and there give rise to some insignificant bodies of separatists, it never did break off from the national church of the country, but remained as a whole a movement within, not outside of it. For nearly a hundred years Pietism exerted a most powerful influence both on the religious and social life of Germany, then it almost entirely disappeared in the new world of thought that opened on that country towards the close of the eighteenth century, and it is only in recent times that traces of its characteristic style of piety are again to be discovered there.

The type of character that we meet with in its earlier followers has something peculiarly attractive about it,--a cordial, active, sincere piety, marked at once by deep and earnest emotion, and by a certain simplicity and sobriety. Ernst Moritz Arndt 260 says of such men: "I can still remember having seen in my early boyhood old men of Spener and Franke's school in pulpits and in houses; and the blessedness of their strong and strengthening faith, the serene, quiet cheerfulness of a life which no sorrows, no storms of the world without, no unreasonableness of men, could disturb or lay waste, still floats like a lovely flower before the eye of memory." Spener, and through him his immediate disciples, had been led to see a truth which might well produce this result. For what their favourite theme of the insufficiency of a dead faith, and the necessity of a change in the heart and life, really meant was this: that no mere intellectual acceptance of certain doctrines, however true, would save a man, but a heart and will set right towards God and his neighbour, which must manifest themselves in a life of prayer and charity. Thus they had learnt that Christianity was not primarily a system of doctrine, but a life; for them religion had been brought back from the sphere of mere reasoning and controversy to that of affection and practical conduct. In after years the negations and limitations of Pietism also bore their appropriate fruit, and of a very different kind; but as yet we have to do only with its true and nobler side.

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