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Electress Louisa

Among the admirers of Paul Gerhardt we have named the wife of the Great Elector, Louisa Henrietta of Brandenburg. This princess, who was herself a hymn-writer of no mean ability, shines out upon us from among the confused and tragic scenes of that seventeenth century, as almost the ideal of a noble Christian lady. She was the daughter of the Prince of Orange, and grand-daughter on her mother's side of the Admiral Coligny who fell in the Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day. Her mother, herself a woman of unusual intelligence and piety, educated her with the greatest care; at her wish the princess was instructed in graver studies than were common with the women of those days, and also in practical household management, and all kinds of feminine handicrafts. She grew up tall, fair-haired, and graceful, and at nineteen was married, at the Hague, to the Elector of Brandenburg. As her father was then very ill with a protracted and fatal malady, she did not however at once leave home, but nursed her father till his death, and then awaited the birth of her first child. In 1649 she set out on her way to Berlin in late autumn weather, and through a country devastated by war and famine. Under the hardships of the journey her own health suffered, and her little son sickened; and when she arrived in Berlin, it was not to bring her husband and people an heir to the throne, but with 219 empty arms and an aching heart, for the poor infant had died by the way. But she found consolation in the devoted attachment of her husband; he could not bear to be separated from her, and it soon became her custom to accompany him in all the numerous journeys he was constantly making, even in more than one winter campaign against the Swedes and Poles. He consulted her on all affairs of state, and she entered warmly into his plans for restoring prosperity to the land which had suffered so much from war. She sent to Holland for skilful agriculturists, and established model farms in various parts of Prussia; she introduced the culture of the potato, which was before unknown there; and she founded primary schools all over the country, where they had been almost entirely swept away. So deep was the gratitude she won from the common people that the name "Louisa" became the favourite name for girls, and as lately as thirty or forty years ago her portrait was still to be found on cottage walls. When at home her favourite residence was her country house Oranienburg, near Berlin. She had neither inclination nor time for gaiety, beyond what her position required; for, besides all these serious occupations, she took part in works of charity, and was strict in the performance of her religious duties. She was always present at divine service, where she appeared in a very simple dress, and made it a rule never to look in her mirror before going to church. In religion she belonged to the Reformed Church, but she was in the habit of friendly intercourse with Lutherans, and earnestly desired to see peace between the two communions. But one source of sorrow weighed secretly on the princess's heart: 220 she had no second child; and if the Elector had no son, his race became extinct, and at his death a war of succession might be apprehended. Long she brooded over this grief; at last she resolved to make the greatest sacrifice in her power, and to demand a divorce for the sake of the country. She acknowledged afterwards that she found it very hard to come to this resolution, and it cost her many hours of tears and prayers, but it was done; she appeared before the Elector, and formally announced to him her intention of applying for a divorce, that might enable him for the sake of his people to marry again. But the Elector refused to listen to her proposal; had she forgotten the command that man should not sever what God had joined? If it pleased God to punish them and their country by childlessness, let them submit; but never would he consent to break an oath he had sworn in God's sight. No doubt it was with a lightened heart that she went back to Oranienburg, where a few months of tranquillity so far restored her health, that at length her wishes were fulfilled, and she bore another son. He was born on a Tuesday; and in memory of this great blessing she kept every Tuesday with its own religious observances for the rest of her life, and also founded an orphan-house at Oranienburg for fatherless children. Two more sons followed in due time, one of whom became afterwards the first king of Prussia. The last of the three was born in 1666 at Cleves, and then her health failed, worn out by the great exertions which her life had demanded, and she died, after many months of slow decline, in 1667, at the age of thirty-nine.

One of her last acts is said to have been to induce 221 the Elector to give up his demand on the Lutheran clergy, and to grant them freedom from the obnoxious subscription, an act2626It was not formally published till early in 1668, when Gerhardt had already accepted the archdeaconry of Lübben. which put an end to the discontent and resistance to the government then so widely spread. Among her favourite recreations, especially in times of toil and anxiety, was the reading and singing of hymns, and at her request Otto von Schwerin, the great friend of herself and her husband, made a collection of them which was afterwards published and widely circulated. To this he contributed one or two, and the Electress four hymns, two of which have become classical in Germany; one is the celebrated Easter hymn,

"Jesus, my Redeemer lives,"2727"Jesus meine Zuversicht."

which, with its beautiful chorale, is now in various versions becoming familiar to us in England. It is probable that the Electress composed both the words and the melody of this hymn, but that Schwerin polished the former and Crüger harmonized the latter for her. To this day it ranks among the most popular of German hymns. We give another as being less known, which contains an affecting expression of the consciousness of sin and ingratitude in a life, in which those around her could scarce discern a failing.

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