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Luise Hensel

Poetess and convert; b. at Linum, March 30, 1798; d. at Paderborn, December 18, 1876

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Hensel, LUISE, poetess and convert; b. at Linum, March 30, 1798; d. at Paderborn, December 18, 1876. Her father was Johann Hensel, Lutheran parson at Linum in the Mark of Brandenburg. After the father’s death in 1809, the mother with her son and three daughters returned to her birthplace, Berlin, where the family dwelt, at first in somewhat needy circumstances. Luise attended the high school (Realschule), now the Elisabethschule, showing extraordinary talent. In consequence of the religious teaching there, she conceived doubts as to the truth of the Lutheran creed. When she was about to be confirmed (on March 31, 1813), she made the following compact with God: “that by this act I only embrace Christianity in general and renew the covenant of my baptism, but that I in no way agree to bind myself to any creed concerning which I am not convinced as to whether or not it is the Church established by Christ”. The political events in 1813 inspired several fervid patriotic poems. Three years later she for the first time made the acquaintance of a Catholic, Klemens Brentano. It was the poet himself who during the “Storm and Stress” period was the first to profit by this intercourse; he became once more a devout Catholic and accordingly he justly called his friend “the angel in the wilderness”. Luise’s gradual approach to the Catholic Church ended in her conversion, which came about, without creating the slightest sensation, on December 8, 1818, in the Hedwigskirche, Berlin. Her subsequent career was like a perpetual journey. She left Berlin and became companion to the Princess Salm in Munster and Dusseldorf. Then (in 1820) she undertook the education of the three youngest daughters of Count von Stolberg, holding the same relation to her nephew in Wiedenbruck (Westphalia) in 1823; then, after a short sojourn in Coblenz and on the Marienberg near Boppard, she took the position of head teacher of the St. Leonard’s Academy for girls at Aachen, which she held for six years. She was obliged to give up this abundantly blest activity owing to ill health and returned to her brother’s pleasant home in Berlin, where she nursed her aging mother until the death of the latter in 1835. Then began another period of wandering activity in educational fields: in the seminary at Neuburg (1840-41), in Cologne (1841-50), then again in Wiedenbruck. Finally she settled in the convent of the Society of the Daughters of Christian Love at Paderborn, where the foundress, Pauline von Malinckrodt, a former pupil of hers, had set aside a home for her. There she passed the twilight of her pious life in peaceful retirement, without becoming a member of the order.

Her poetic works consist of more or less religious verses composed for special occasions. They were published in various places. Unfortunately her modesty would not admit of a complete edition of her writings. The most just and impartial judgment on her muse has been passed by R. M. Meyer in his Deutsche Literatur des 19. Jahrhunderts (1906, p. 79). “In her pious humility she compares herself in one place to an ugly little vase in which beautiful flowers have been put: God‘s special grace; it was preeminently by His grace that every prayer became a poem to her, and each poem a prayer. The result was a rich bouquet of pious songs, the impressive simplicity of which reminds one of the old songs of the Church. She wrote with little care, scribbling her verses on scraps of paper. But thousands and tens of thousands found edification in these simple prayers, a tribute denied to the admirable, spiritual poems of her friend Klemens.” The most important edition of her poems is that by C. Schluter (Paderborn, 1869), several times reprinted.


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