« Prev Philip Frederick Hiller Next »

Philip Frederick Hiller

But the chief poet of this part of Germany was Philip Frederick Hiller. He was the son of a pastor in Wurtemberg (1699-1769), a pupil and afterwards a friend of Bengel's, and himself a pastor in two or three villages of his native country, and finally for many years at a small place called Steinheim. In his early manhood he was a small, fair, active man, cheerful and alert, with a fine resonant voice, and great skill in music, and he was happily married. But life brought him many depressing trials; he had a large family, and an extremely small income; the part of the country where he lived was one in which the sectarian spirit was strongest, and the principal families in his parish were infected by it, and either rejected his ministrations or received them in an unfriendly and critical spirit. He fell into ill health, and after a long struggle with it he was obliged to succumb in his fifty-second year, and give up preaching. With rest he recovered to some extent, but he entirely lost his voice, so that for the rest of his life he could only speak in a husky whisper. Still he continued to hold the living of Steinheim; he had a curate to preach for him, and he was able after a time to resume most of his pastoral duties, while the enforced leisure which 280 his illness brought him was occupied with writing religious works, Among them was a collection of short poems in alexandrines called "Sacred Morning Hours," and a "Life of Jesus" in the same metre; but his best known were two volumes of hymns: one, called the "Little Paradise," consisted chiefly of poetical versions of prayers from Arndt's "Garden of Paradise;" the other, "The Casket of Spiritual Songs," was entirely original. This last soon obtained a very wide popularity throughout Southern Germany; it is still the commonest book in Wurtemberg next to the Bible itself; and German emigrants, of whom a very large proportion belong to these regions, have carried it to the backwoods of America and the mountains of the Caucasus. We are told that some thirty years ago a German colony in the latter country was attacked by a hostile tribe of Circassians, and the sons and daughters carried into slavery. As they were torn from their parents' arms, some of the latter hastily cut up two copies of Hiller's "Casket," and distributed the leaves among their children that they might not forget their religion among the barbarians.

Hiller's model was Paul Gerhardt; he has indeed less poetical power than Gerhardt, and his style is more purely didactic, but his hymns are never in bad taste, never irreverent or extravagant; they are written in modest scriptural language, and their predominant tones are those experiences of penitence, of gratitude to the Saviour, of trust in the compassionate love of God, which are common to all Christians. Many too are appropriate to special conditions of life, such as health or sickness, marriage, childhood or old age, and thus his "Casket" forms a useful manual 281 of daily devotion. Well is it for any people that hymns of such deep, thoughtful, practical piety should be their daily spiritual food. We give two of the best known: the first is more reflective and less simply popular than many of Hiller's; the latter is a very favourite hymn in sickness.

« Prev Philip Frederick Hiller Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection