Life work of Louis Harms
It is difficult to have a thorough and correct knowledge of a person, unless one knows his origin and the foundation upon which he grew; and that foundation is the parents' house. Our ancestors were farmers, and our great-grandfather was a farmer in the village of Moorburg. Our grandfather, being a younger son, sought employment elsewhere; for, in accordance with the old Saxon custom, the homestead was inherited by the eldest son, the younger brothers remaining in the household, having their support from the farm, or they freed themselves of their brother by acquiring homes of their own. Our grandfather chose the latter, learned the rules of commerce, and set up as a merchant in Harburg.
Our grandparents were Christians, upright, just, God-fearing people, strict in their devotion to duty. Their youngest son was our dear father, and from his birth his parents devoted him to the service of the Lord, esteeming it an honor to be a minister of the gospel. As the parents' will was God's will, to which there should be no resistance, so our dear father became a minister, although he had no inclination for theology. He was a lively, spirited boy, and grew and grew until he reached the height of six feet six inches.
His heart was set upon being a soldier, to which the parents were bitterly opposed, believing that the rough life of a soldier would not further the Christian spirit of their son; this belief being strengthened by the wretched death of one of their relatives—Lieutenant Ziehen—who had been fatally wounded in the Seven Years' War.
Our father had another reason for not wishing to become a minister of the gospel. Our grandfather was a strict disciplinarian, and let no transgression go unpunished, and was of the opinion that God's Word was the best chastisement for offenses— a longer or shorter portion of the Scriptures to be committed to memory according to the character of the offense. Once after an especially great provocation, father was compelled to commit the whole of the 119th Psalm to memory.
This well-meant but doubtful method would have wholly alienated our father from the Scriptures had not his faithful, loving, spiritually-minded mother reconciled him. He yielded to the will of his father, went to the high school at Harburg, then to the University of Gottingen, was a tutor in Walsrode, and in 1805 was chosen assistant preacher. In the same year he married Lucie Dorothee Friederika Heinze, our beloved mother. Her father, a Saxon-Altenburger, coming as a tutor to Hanover, had won the love and respect of the people, and remained there. He was pastor in Suderbruch and later in Holtorf, and my father became acquainted with him while tutor in the house of the Apothecary Gebler in Walsrode.
On May 5th, 1808, was born George Ludwig Detlef Theodore Harms, the second one of the ten children with which God had blessed our parents.
There was at that time great anxiety and excitement in the Fatherland. Napoleon, or, as we always called him, Bonaparte, was at war with Germany, and everywhere victorious. Troops were every now and then marching through the place, and the unrest, burden, and turmoil entered into the home life of families. My father preserved a coin as a memento of a great deliverance from anxiety, caused by a soldier in a regiment which was passing who suddenly took up my little brother Louis upon his horse and rode off with him, to the speechless astonishment of our parents. But very soon Louis came running back, and holding aloft in triumph the coin which the soldier had given him after lifting him off the horse.
By strict economy, and humble faith in God, and a cheerful spirit, they were enabled to keep themselves in peace during those troublous times, and we children had cause to be grateful that we were blessed with such parents. How clearly do I remember our dear mother taking us to church in the severe weather of midwinter—so cold that our teeth chattered—and the good wife of Baker R., who always sat by us, covering my limbs with her clothes, that I might not suffer from the cold.
Two particular duties our parents demanded of their children, one being obedience to them, and the other a strict regard for truth. Yet in all childish transgressions they made allowance for dullness and thoughtfulness. Once our father suspected our eldest brother August of having told a falsehood. He was very anxious in regard to it, and gave himself no rest until, by inquiry in Walsrode, he was convinced the boy was innocent. Father often related, and always with smiles, that August when a child came one morning into his study and stamped violently with his foot. “Why do you do that, August?” questioned father.” Because I am vexed with you," was the reply.
Our mother always talked to her children of evenings, asking them their doings and experiences during the day, and would relate beautiful and instructive stories in her loving, entertaining way.
It was not the wish of our parents to raise their children too tenderly, nor to give themselves too much anxiety about us, so we ran through woods and fields and were healthy and happy. We would climb high trees, to the anxiety of the neighbors, who would come to inform our father of it. “If you choose to climb," he would say to us upon these occasions, “I will not hinder you; your bones are your own; but your trousers belong to me, and you must not wear them while climbing."
At ten o'clock precisely our father retired to rest, and arose at four in the morning, keeping up this custom all his life. Our parents were courageous in spirit, and Louis resembled them in that respect. I heard him say once that the feeling of fear, except the fear of God, was unknown to him. Once word came that the French soldiers were to be quartered in the place, and mother had prepared and heated a room for an officer and his companions, who came in very wet, for it was pouring rain. She had not prepared the guest chamber, but one adjoining, and when the officer arrived he refused to occupy it, but went without leave into the guest chamber, and proceeded to lay aside baggage and sword, and make himself comfortable. "Margaret," called my mother to her faithful maid, “come and help me throw this Frenchman's things out of the house!” Margaret came, and together they threw all out, the officer following, and peace was restored.
The marching through of troops was a great annoyance to the citizens, and once after a company of Russians passed our house, my mother went to the kitchen and saw that her tinware was missing. “Margaret,” called she, “the soldiers have taken my tinware!" "I will bring them back," replied Margaret, and, running after the Russians, she made complaint to the commanding officer, and came triumphantly back with the tins.
Father, as assistant pastor of Walsrode, had the care and management of the school. The Russians had occupied the schoolhouse during their sojourn, and to accommodate them the school had to be dismissed for the time. The maps were torn and other injuries done, so that the place was unfit for occupancy the day after they left. Having endured this, my father resolved that it should not happen again, and when the Prussian soldiers were to be quartered there, an officer applied to him for the use of the schoolhouse for several days and nights. Father assured him that there were enough places in Walsrode to accommodate them, and he would willingly point them out; but the schoolhouse they could not have. Words were exchanged over this decision, and the officer became so angry that he drew his sword, to which action father composedly remarked that "if he entered the schoolhouse it would be over his body." Mother and my elder brothers, August and Louis, listened in great anxiety, and when the officer drew his sword both boys sprang upon him, clasped his limbs and bit and scratched him, until he beat a retreat, and the schoolhouse was not occupied that time by soldiers.
Brave as were our father and mother, they were tender-hearted and could not bear to see need without trying to relieve it. When a peddler with tin or earthenware came along, father was known to have bought the whole supply from the weary man who had carried it from place to place, and perhaps had a wife and children in poverty at home. A picture peddler once came to our house, and showed us a print of the desperate battle between the Poles and Russians, which pleased me so much that I asked father to buy two for me. He looked tenderly down upon me, and, to my great delight, bought them; but when I showed them to our cousin Elise, who was like a child of the house in our home, she said, "Oh, Theodore, how could you ask the father to buy them when he has to pay out so much money?" I was filled with remorseful sorrow, and at the same time with a deeper love for my father, who had perhaps given his last eight groschens to give me pleasure.
If anyone came begging my father could not refuse to give, and our mother was indeed a mother of the poor, and I cannot better give evidence of the esteem in which she was held by the community than to mention the effect her death had upon the neighborhood. It was indeed a time of mourning when the news went abroad that the Frau Pastorin was dead; and even in the inn, where a band of music was about to play, silence was enjoined by the guests, who said that in such a time of general sorrow there must be no music there. In her life she was full of energy, few having her spirit and bodily strength. The year round there had to be twenty-two beds made in our house, for there were many boarders in my father's school. All these pupils loved her, and once when a former scholar, Rudolph von Bothmer, came, father, who could not remain in the house long with him, said in the dear low German which he used in speaking to those he loved, "Rudolph, will you go with me?" To which Rudolph replied, "No, father, I will stay with mother; she will bake pancakes for me."
I was always a headstrong, refractory boy; but mother could turn me about her finger. Once I was to go with my brothers some distance out in the country, and had looked forward to it with great delight; but when I found a boy was to accompany us whom I disliked, and not without cause, I declared if he went I would remain at home. All persuasion from the others was of no avail; go I would not. At length mother came, and in her gentle, earnest way said, “Theodore, your obstinacy will yet put a nail in my coffin." I could not withstand that; tears ran from my eyes, and I went without a word.
The tenderest love existed between our father and mother and reigned in our home. If father went out, mother followed to the porch to look after him. "Did you wish anything, Friederika?" my father would ask. "No, only to see you."
When Julius Reuter, who, as a pupil, grew up in our house, and whom I know in hearty, brotherly love press his hand as Lieutenant von Zelle, an officer in the garrison, was about to visit us, his comrades would say: "We wonder that you care to go back where you were once a scholar; we were too glad to leave," he would answer, “But they are as loved parents to me; I could not help longing to visit them." We children were always delighted to see him, and called him “thin," to distinguish him from our brother Julius, who was "thick."
We had a pupil in the house—Adolph Albrecht—who was full of mischief, but not malicious in his fun, a master in wrestling, and sure to hit his antagonist in snow-balling. After his confirmation he had a position as Post-Secretary, and visited our parents, for whom he had great love. “Now, Adolph," said father upon his first visit, “what chance have you for promotion in your calling?" "Oh, father," replied he, "unless some of those cattle of Post-employees die, my chance is very small." "I pray God, Adolph, that you may not be the first," replied father, looking seriously upon him for his thoughtless speech. There was a deep, hard-crusted snow upon the ground, and Adolph, from behind a pear tree in the garden, threw a snowball at a neighbor's servant, whom he saw approaching, with such sure aim that it struck the horse; it plunged and threw its rider. “It was Adolph Albrecht did it,” said the man angrily to father. “Adolph, did you throw Herr Brammer's servant from his horse with a snowball?” inquired father. “Yes, father; I threw the snowball, it hit the horse, the horse plunged, and the man fell off." “Well, Adolph, you are not under my care now, I have no control over you, but I yet look upon you as my child. Therefore I give you as a punishment for this misconduct one day's arrest. If you are my boy, you will obey me, and not offend thus again; if not, then you are free to leave my house, for I command you no longer." Adolph remained, held faithfully his day's arrest, and retained the love of our parents.
Father had the gift of imparting instruction, and his school was still and orderly. He seldom used the rod, but had his own methods of punishment and shaming his pupils. Once, one of the girls took a cap from a boy near her and placed it on her own head. “Keep it on during school hours, my child," said father, who had turned just in time to see it, "the cap is very becoming to you." If a pupil did not behave well in church nothing was said until the services were over, then the offending one was talked to in the parsonage, and the offense was not likely to be repeated.
There was no anxiety to have us handsomely clothed; if our clothes were whole and clean, that was all that was required. I, for example, had but one new suit until after my confirmation, having always worn the made-over clothes of my elder brothers.
We were not allowed to go into the streets of evenings, but the whole family gathered about the table and listened to the conversation and narratives of our parents. This strict and yet loving family life, while perhaps not exclusively devout, preserved us from many evils. Yes, it was a wonderfully beautiful home life in our father's house, and in that atmosphere grew Louis Harms.