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Ida Hahn-Hahn

Countess, convert and authoress, born June 22, 1805; died January 12, 1880

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Hahn-Hahn, IDA, Countess, convert and authoress, born June 22, 1805; died January 12, 1880. She was descended from a family that formerly was one of the wealthiest and most illustrious of the Mecklenburg nobility. Her father, the tragic and famous “Theatergraf” (theatrical count), squandered such huge sums on his one hobby, the drama, that he reduced the family to great straits and finally had to be placed under the supervision of a guardian. Fortunately he did not have much influence on Ida’s education. On the other hand, the pious disposition of her mother also seems to have been antipathetic to her. Consequently the bringing up of the sixteen-year old girl, who ought to have been preparing for confirmation, seems to have been particularly superficial in all matters of religion, according to her own admission. Her mind was just as deficiently cultivated in other lines of study, so that the countess later in life had to fill out many a gap in her education by reading. When she was twenty-one years old she married her cousin, Count Friedrich von Hahn, Erbmarschall (hereditary marshal) of Basedow: hence her double name Hahn-Hahn. It was a marriage of convenience, contracted without any affection on either side, and culminating in a divorce at the end of three years. Her only child, being mentally and bodily deformed, was for years the source of acute grief to the mother. She withdrew from society and lived for a long while in retirement with her mother in the Greifswald. But after a time she visited Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Spain, and France. Later on she made a tour of the North and after that of the East.

The countess enjoyed absolute independence during this period (1829-1849), and led the life of an emancipated woman of the world. Much talk was caused by her association with Baron von Bistram, who used to accompany her on her travels, as also by her brief acquaintance with the famous lawyer, Henry Simond. One day, in 1849, opening the Bible at random, she chanced on Isaias, lx, 1: “Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem: for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.” She accepted the sign and, after wrestling with her soul for several months, wrote to Prince-Bishop Diepenbrock, asking to be admitted into the Catholic Church. The prelate subjected her to a severe test to make sure that her resolution was earnest, but she withstood this ordeal, and on March 26, 1850, made profession of the Catholic Faith before Bishop von Ketteler in the Hedwigskirche in Berlin. She then went into retirement at Mainz with the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, for whom she had founded a convent there, mostly out of her own means. The last thirty years of her life were devoted entirely to works of piety and to serious writing with a definite and lofty purpose: she condemned her own earlier compositions before the whole literary world. She was afflicted with much bodily suffering during her last few years on earth, but she bore it with consummate heroism.

Poems.—The small volumes, “Gedichte” (1835), “Neuere Gedichte” (1836), “Venezianische Nachte” (1836), “Lieder and Gedichte” (1837), and “Astralion” (1839), show depth of sentiment and a high standard of form and contents; but at the same time they betray the youthfulness of the author and the almost overwhelming influence of her favorite poet, Lord Byron. Two small volumes written after her conversion are: “Unsere Liebe Frau” (1851) and “Das Jahr der Kirche” (1854), their titles being significant of their contents.

Novels written before her conversion.—The countess’s real literary talent was evinced in her novels. Her first two attempts were “Ilda Schonholm” or “Aus der Gesellschaft” (1838) and “Der Rechte” (1839). Even these books show promise of the sureness and self-confidence that were so characteristic of her later works, but they are marred by slovenly and inartistic construction. From the point of view of morality, the two first-fruits are the least worthy of all that the countess ever wrote. Her next novels and tales are of a far higher order in both respects. “Grafin Faustine” (1840) still shows the influence of her leaning towards emancipation, but this, of course, was somewhat mitigated by the fact that at the end of the book the Grafin enters a convent. Both artistically and morally, “Sigismund Forster” (1847) is the best of the many books which came from Ida’s pen at that time, including “Ulrich” (1841), “Die Kinder auf dem Abendberg” (1843), “Cecil” (1844), “Zwei Frauen” (1845), “Clelia Conti” (1846), “Sibylle” (1846)—an autobiography—and “Levin” (1848).

Books of travel.—These are among the most mature works that the countess produced in this period. They are not books of travels in the ordinary sense, but rather the personal impressions of their author. “Jenseits der Berge” (1840), dealing with Italy, was followed by “Erinnerungen aus and an Frankreich” (1842), “Ein Reiseversuch im Norden” (1843), and lastly “Orientalische Briefe” (1844).

Tales and novels written after her conversion.—The story of her conversion is set forth in her famous book: “Von Babylon nach Jerusalem” (1851). This work could also reasonably be called a defense of the Catholic Church. The little book: “Aus Jerusalem” (1851) runs along the same trend of thought, and was followed by “Die Liebhaber des Kreuzes” (1852). Eight years later (1860) she reverted to the novel pure and simple in “Maria Regina”, which achieved an immense circulation. In “Doralice” (1861) she displayed even more improvement and artistic refinement. This book was followed by “Die zwei Schwestern” (1863), “Peregrin” (1864), “Die Erbin von Cronenstein” (1869), “Geschichte einer armen Familie” (1869), “Die Erzahlung des Hofrats” (1871), “Die Glocknerstochter” (1871), “Vergieb uns unsere Schuld” (1874), “Nirwana” (1875), “Der breite Weg and die enge Strasse” (1877), and “Wahl and Fuhrung” (1878).

Devotional works.—”Die Martyrer” (1856), “Die Vater der Wuste” (1857), “Die Vater der orientalischen Kirche” (1859), “Vier Lebensbilder. Ein Papst, ein Bischof, ein Priester, ein Jesuit” (1861); “St. Augustinus” (1866), “Eudoxia” (1867), “Leben der hl. Theresia von Jesus” (1867), and many others written in a straightforward, simple style.

Her works, before her conversion, appeared at Leipzig and Berlin; after her conversion, at Mainz. The “Jubilee edition” appeared at Ratisbon in 1905, with a preface by Schaching.

N. SCHEID


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