« AnteriorContinua »
biographer, he had conceived thoughts of a Christian society far different from all that is now actual on the earth, and while at the University, "consecrated himself to the work of a reformer, by a perfect subjection of himself to the law of justice and universal brotherhood, as taught by Jesus." His attempts to reform his fellow students brought him into trouble, and rendered him an object of suspicion to the government. At the age of twenty he began to lecture, in a private capacity we suppose, on "various parts of Jurisprudence," at the University of Giessen. At this period doubts respecting Religion came over him. He met the enemy face to face; studied the writings of Skeptics, Pantheists, and Infidels, and found the books written against Christianity, next to the Gospel itself, were the most efficient promoters of his belief in its divine truth. This fearless examination of all that had been said against Religion, showed him that it rested on a rock which neither its foes nor its friends could ever shake. He never afterwards feared that the most valuable of all man's treasures could be blown away by a few mouthfuls of wind. Did a man, who knew religion by heart, ever fear that it would perish?
In 1818, some towns in Hesse engaged this youth, in his twenty-second year, to help them in escaping an artful design of their government to oppress them. His noble attempt succeeded. Of course "the influential persons" whose object he defeated, and the government whose illegal designs he exposed, were offended at him. He became the object of a bitter and unrelenting persecution. His hopes blighted in his native kingdom, he accepted an invitation to the University of Jena. Here he commenced a course of lectures on the Pandects, before a respectable audience, though it was thought extraordinary for so young a man to undertake a branch so difficult. Here also his reformatory and liberal principles stood in the way of his promotion. He was tried as an accomplice of George Sand, in the murder of Kotzebue - a tool of despotism—; was acquitted, but forbidden to lecture in Jena. He returned to Giessen; suspected by the government; treated with coolness by some of his "friends," for they thought his cause without hope, and "left him to strive alone in his hour of trial and suffering." The excellence of his
character was pleaded as proof of his innocence of ill. "So much the worse," said one opposer, who knew what he was about, "I should like him better if he had a few vices." The government, thinking him the handle of the axe, which they knew lay, ready and sharpened, at the root of the tree, intended to imprison him. He escaped by flight to Strasburg, thence to Paris, and became acquainted with Lafayette. But all foreigners were soon ordered to quit France, for this was in 1820, and the same spirit ruled in Paris as in Giessen. A lady invited him to Switzerland. Here he was invited to become a professor in the Cantonal School of the Grisons, one of the higher seminaries of education. Here again his liberal spirit raised up enemies. But at this time it was the church, not the state, that took offence at his freedom. In his lectures on history, he ascribed the Christian revelation to the efficacy of two great principles, namely, the doctrine of one God, and that all men ought to love one another, and strive after godlike perfection. Some were inspired to lead men to this great aim. The clergy were alarmed, and declared that he denied the Godhead of Jesus, total depravity, and original sin. Dr. Follen's resignation of his office was the result of this clerical alarm. However, he was soon appointed as a public lecturer at the University of Basle, where he taught natural, civil, and ecclesiastical law, and philosophy in its application to religion, morals, legislation, and the fine arts. But even here, "where the free Switzer yet bestrides alone his chainless mountains," he was not secure, while in the Canton of the Grisons, the Congress of Troppau demanded that he should be given up. While at Basle, in 1824, the government of Basle received three notes from the governments of Austria, Prussia, and Russia, demanding that he should be given up to the tribunal of inquisition. The result of all was, that he fled from Basle hid under the boot of a chaise to Paris, and thence to America, where he arrived in December, 1824. His subsequent story may be briefly hinted at. He was successively teacher of Ethics and Ecclesiastical History at the Divinity School, and Teacher of German in the University at Cambridge, a preacher of the Gospel at Boston, New-York, Lexington, and other places; and as a philanthropist, engaging in the benevolent works of the day.
Dr. Follen was eminently a Christian man. By this we do not mean that he had learned by rote a few traditional doctrines, whose foundation he never dared examine, and condemned all such as could not accept them; not, that he loved to say there was no salvation out of the Procrustes-bed of his own church; not, that he accepted the popular standard of conventional morals, cursing all that fell below, and damning such as were above, that standard. We know this is too often a true description of the sectarian or popular Christian: a man with more Memory than Thought; more Belief than Life; more Fear than Love. With Dr. Follen, Christianity took a turn a little different. To serve God with the whole mind, was not, necessarily, to think as Anselm and Augustine in religious matters, but to think truly and uprightly; to serve Him with the whole heart and soul was to live a life of active goodness and holiness of heart. He was not one of the many who have days to be Christians, and days to be men of the world; but, a Christian once, was a Christian always. We do not mean to say he had no stains of human imperfection, weakness, and evil. Doubtless he had such. The prurient eye may read traces of such on this monument, where conjugal love solaces its bereavement by tracing, with affectionate pen, the tale of his life, his trials, his temptations, and his endurance.
In a moral character so rich as this of Dr. Follen, it is difficult, perhaps, to select a point of sufficient prominence, by which to distinguish the man, and about which to group the lesser elements of his being. But what strikes us as chief, is his love of FREEDOM. He felt MAN was superior to all the circumstances, prosperous or adverse, which could be gathered around him. Therefore, he saw the weakness of men beneath the trappings of a monarch's court, and did not fear to lift up his juvenile voice for human rights and everlasting truth; therefore, he saw the greatness of men under the squalid garments of the beggar or the slave, and never despaired of raising them to the estate of a man, but toiled and prayed for this great end. This love of Freedom was conspicuous in his youth, breathing in the "Great Song;" and shone more and more, as years gave him the meditative mind. It appears in all his writings; in all his life. At an early age, he
joined the army, to fight for freedom and his Fatherland, in the tented field; the chief cause he engaged in as a lawyer was the cause of Right against Oppression. For this he was an exile in a strange land, and in that land he but continued in manhood the work begun in youth. This love of freedom appeared in his sermons, where, some think, it does not often appear. So, one day, after preaching, a friend, "who had a kind heart, but an arbitrary character," took him by the button, and said, "Your sermon, sir, was very sensible; but you spoil your discourses with your views about freedom. We are all wearied with hearing the same thing from you. You always have something about freedom in whatever you say to us. I am sick of hearing about freedom; we have too much freedom. We are all sick of it; don't let us hear any more such sermons from you." — Vol. I. p. 250.
He saw the great stain that defiles the government of the Union the stain of slavery. With his characteristic zeal, he espoused the cause of the oppressed and downtrodden African. His attention was first called to the subject by accident. As he returned from preaching, one rainy day, he overtook a negro, apparently not well able to bear the storm. He took him into the chaise. The negro talked of Slavery; of Mr. Walker's "incendiary publication;" of the suspicious death of Mr. Walker. This awakened the attention of Dr. Follen to the subject. He soon visited Mr. Garrison, whose efforts in the cause of Abolition have been so justly celebrated. "He found him in a little upper chamber, where were his writing-desk, his types, and his printing-press; his parlor by day, his sleeping-room by night; where, known only by a few other faithful spirits, he denied himself all but the bare necessaries of life, that he might give himself up, heart and hand, to the despised cause of the negro slave."
Here he did not find many of the more conspicuous men of the land to join him. There is a time when every great cause, that is one day to move the millions, rests on the hands and in the hearts of a few men; noble hearts, and strong hands; heroes of the soul, whom God raises up to go on the forlorn hope of humanity, and shed their life where others shall one day wave the banner of triumph, and, walking dry-shod, sing pæans of victory, though often
unmindful of those by whom the day was won. In 1833, Dr. Follen writes to Dr. Bowring, and says, he has "been seven years in the land, and found but two eminent men, Dr. Channing and Clement C. Biddle, who will not connive at slavery for any purpose!" Dr. Bowring's reply is worthy to be pondered: "I am not surprised at the way you speak of the slavery question. It is indeed the opprobrium of the United States. There is no escape from the palpable, the prominent, the pestiferous fact, that human beings are bought and sold by men, who call themselves Republicans and Christians. It is thrown in our teeth, it is slapped in our faces, it is branded on our souls, when we talk of your country, and hold up your institutions to admiration and imitation. You must indeed labor day and night, at sun-rising and sun-setting, at home and abroad, with the influential above, with the influential below you." p. 338.
In the days of peril which came over the anti-slavery cause, Dr. Follen did not shrink from fidelity to his principles. He faced the evil like a man, neither courage nor calmness forsaking him. We would gladly, for our country's sake, tear out many pages he book that records his life; for they are pages of shame to the free State we live in; but what is done cannot be undone by silence.* But there was one as true in this matter as himself. His wife writes thus: "There were some of my friends, who thought that I should feel very badly at seeing my husband one of this little company of insulted men; but, as he stood there, [before a committee of the Legislature,] battling for freedom of speech in this free land, surrounded by the rich, and the powerful, and, the favorites of the world, and condemned by them all for it, I would not have had him exchange positions with any one of them. The unruffled calmness of his soul took possession of mine." Page 401. This is not the only instance of the same spirit in her. Before this, she had bid him above all things to be true to his convictions. One day, he said to his wife, "I have been thinking of joining the Anti-Slavery Society; what do you think of it?" "That you ought to follow the light of your own mind," was the reply; "why should
* See, especially, pages 387-403, not to name other places.