Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Library of Elisabeth Bechtel, 1852-1885



John B. Bechtel (1807-1889) of that family of Old Mennonite ministers of Hereford Pennsylvania,  bequeathed four titles from the 1830's and before, the earliest being of 1745, to his daughter, Elisabeth Longacre Bechtel (8 February 1852 / 22 April 1885). These, in the provenance, with several New Testaments, Mennonite song books and catechisms of the 1870's, then passed to her daughter Anna Bechtel Mack (1880-1970) to be reclaimed from her attic after both Anna and her own daughter Anna Elizabeth Reiff Young (1910-2005), who completed this custody, had passed. Elisabeth Bechtel seems to be the common denominator of all these, but being that some are the professional books of a minister and that other members of the family were Mennonite ministers, additional works were possibly extant. Those from the 1830's inscribe the names of the Elisabeth Longacre's mother, fatherand grandfather. We suppose these were kept for Anna when her mother died prematurely in 1885. The transmission extends well beyond a century. Elisabeth Bechtel's husband's name, Henry Mack (1854-1946), is stamped in one song book. Henry was the brother of Andrew Mack, who succeeded John B. Bechtel as minister at Hereford at the inception of the Haberman affair. Two catechisms are inscribed by Anna.

This provenance on its own leads to understanding of the devotional ways. John B. Bechtel and his wife had eight children, but five died before their parents, including Elisabeth. How were the books passed down? Elisabeth's mother, Mary, who lived until 1898, left them as a keepsake for her grand daughter, Anna Bechtel Mack, who on her 21st birthday also inherited several hundred dollars from this grandmother. The books were kept incognito a hundred years beyond their past owners' lives.

This culture of devotion of Anabaptist Philadelphia continued from colonial settlement in 1683 to beyond the Civil War. (Yoder, 274), always allowing precursors and survivals. Even if today such classics in German are scarce, they were commonplace then and reprinted. Some 3151 titles, books and almanacs in the German language were printed in America between 1728 and 1830, most in Pennsylvania. The most notable were handed down on the basis of family association and esteem. Two dozen books in in one family in 1800 would have been a large number.
True Christianity

The most important of these was by Johann Arndt, Wahren Christenthem. John B. Bechtel obtained his copy from the estate sale of his father's library. John B. then wrote on the first free end paper in English and German, "Bought at the Sale of my dec’d Father Abm. C. Bechtel Nov the 15th 1861 / John B. Bechtel /paid $1.00 / one of the administrators." On the paste down his father had previously written, "Subscriber /Abraham C. Bechtel / January the 26th 1833."

This inscription shows extensive Mennonite relations in the family. Abraham C. Bechtel (1776 -1861) is not to be confused with his father, minister Abraham Bechtel (1749-1815), trustee in 1780 for an acre of land given by Henry Stauffer (grandfather of Henry Stauffer Mack?) for the Colebrookdale meetinghouse (Wenger, 251, 121). Abraham C. 's brother, Bishop John C. (Clemens) Bechtel (1779-1843), was also a "preacher at Hereford in 1816 and bishop in 1830," (Wenger, 251) whose son, John B. Bechtel (1807-1889) was ordained at Hereford in 1848. There were four generations of Bechtel Mennonite pastors. John B. Bechtel's grandson, Henry G. Bechtel (b. 1878) was ordained a minister at Vincent in 1914.

The Wahren Christenthem that Abraham C. subscribed has two parts bound in one, 941 and 232 pages respectively, 2 copper-engraved title pages and 63 full-page woodcut emblems. It is the most frequently used devotional book for more than two centuries among Mennonites. Three German editions appeared in Philadelphia and Germantown before it, Ben Franklin's (1751), Christopher Saur's (1765) and Johann Georg Ritter's, 1830.

In 1749 Lutheran pastor Muhlenberg said "take hold of the Holy Bible and True Christianity [Wahren Christenthem] every day" (Journals, I, 219). It proposed an inner life maintained by continuous meditation of the good. The images of paradise in Dutch art are said to come from this. Ardt says there is a conflict between those who profess the good, but do not represent it in their lives and the good itself. Children call this hypocrisy. The chief attribute of the good might be called "mystical union," as critics have it, but they invert the meaning. Arndt says that wrestling with hypocrisy produces continual joy, that faith bridges the feeling of union with its absence,  but without feeling where is the faith? It is as if to say,  a product of this union, one were to wake up one day and have an inner life, which means beautiful, whole, joyful, but did not know where it came from, .

Critics offer stages in this: purgation, illumination, and union, but reverse them. Arndt says it begins with union, which sounds presumptuous to those who say it occurs as a product of achievement, some exercise, but Arndt maintains union is accomplished only by union and not by effort. To effort, effortlessness sounds like backing a horse into a stable forwards.  The beginning and end of unity in Arndt is doing and not doing this simultaneously. Thus by faith the believer is incorporated into Christ through the Spirit. So for Arndt mystical union occurs at the beginning of Christian life not the end.

Such views were implicit in Abraham C. Bechtel's subscription of Wahren Christenthum. Among Mennonites  a farmer might be expected to be ordained if his name were chosen out of a hat. Most of Bechtel's family and the community at large inclined to such practice which happened to John B. Bechtel at age 41. This was also important in sustaining the community of Hereford Old Mennonites. Bechtel may be compared with George Clemens Reiff of Skippack who served a like function in preserving the Old Mennonites there during the Oberholtzer schism of 1848. Christian Clemmer, who had been the pastor in Hereford, went over to Oberholtzer's "New" Mennonites and Bechtel was elected his successor in the Old.

On 17 January 1852, John B. Bechtel of the Old order, paid $75.00 to the New for its one half interest in the old meetinghouse (Good, 19). Bechtel wrote that Clemmer "publicly denounces us from the pulpit as trouble makers and good-for-nothings" (Ruth, 283), but in later testimony for a Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Appeal (Samuel H. Landis et al. vs. Henry H. Borneman et al.) (1883), Bechtel does not rail, but says that "the object of the conference is to keep the congregations[s] together and to promote unity of opinion, and if any trouble arises to consider and adjust them" (Wenger, 51-52).

The Wandering Soul

The lot that fell to John B. Bechtel in 1848 at age 41 does not prove he had been yearning for the call, but his annotation of Die Wandelnde Seele in 1835 suggests interest in such things. He signs there with the comment, “a very useful book.” A list of birth dates at the end suggest he used it almost as a family Bible. The full title from the first English translation of 1834 is, The Wandering Soul; or, Dialogues Between the wandering Soul and Adam, Noah, and Simon Cleophas Comprising A History of the World, Sacred and Profane From the Creation Until the Destruction of Jerusalem. Two copies in German exist among those attic books, 1833 and 1834. That of 1833 is inscribed by both Bechtel and his wife Mary.

He signed it three times, first with wife, Mary L., on the front paste down in English and in German. Across from these signatures, on the first free end paper, he writes with a flourish in both languages, "Wandering Soul / a very useful book." Turning the page, he signs again in German in pencil on the verso and on the recto of the second free end paper, writes large in English, in ink with a flourish, "John B. Bechtel / February the 13th 1835."

Like Wahren Christenthum, The Wandering Soul had great popularity among Mennonites. Written in Holland in 1635 by Dutch Mennonite Jan Philips Schabaelje and translated into German, it was published in seven different editions in Pennsylvania from 1767 to 1833. Wandering Soul  has been reissued by Preterists today in the debate over Last Days dispensationalist theology. Preterists hold that the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD fulfilled the major part of The Apocalypse of St. John. hence the Last Days have already occurred. In its fictional account of world history, Wandering Soul supports this view in opposition to the English theology of dispensationalism that effected Mennonites after revivalism was adopted by them in the 20th century.

The Order of Heaven

The oldest title in that attic collection is Die Ordnung des Heils nach dem Catechifmo Lutheri. (Bernigeroda, 1745), a technical commentary on Luther’s catechism, with a long preface by Samuel Lau and many contemporary notes in the margins in ink. The Order of Heaven is externally identified three different ways. It is signed on the first free endpaper “Benj. German,” presumably the first owner. There is a book plate on the rear paste down, "Bibliothek, Pastor G. R. Brobft," and it is signed in pencil “W. W. Deistler(?). The extensive notes in ink suggest it was used for instruction and that it belonged to a pastor, as indeed the bookplate states, but another bookplate of a Pastor Brobft, on the Lutherifche Kalender of 1875, identifies a bookseller in Allentown, Pa. as "Paftor G. R. Brobft & Co."  (See, Almanacs in the George A. Smathers Libraries Rare Book Collection) but other such calendars exist as early as 1854: Der Lutherische Calender fuer das Jahr 1854

This book certainly could have belonged to Elizabeth Bechtel's brother in law, Peter Mack, a Lutheran pastor at Hummelstown before his premature death in 1879, possibly retrieved by Henry Mack, the dates for this are right, or it too could be from the library of John B. Bechtel.

Wahren Christenthem and Die Wandelnde Seele are landmarks of German pietism much appreciated by Mennonites whose mystical-evangelical outlook sought a deeper, more genuine spirituality, much in the air in the 1830s, universal among Mennonites who examine every boundary between their faith and the world.

Most of the books of Elizabeth Bechtel's time and before are in German, but she wrote English as her father seems to have. Her signature appears in the German / English New Testament (1870) in German on successive free end papers, "Elizabeth S. Bechtel" and opposite, in English, "Lizzie S. Bechtel." It seems the Bechtel family spoke both languages. Husband Henry Mack's entire ledger is in English.

There are two other testaments. One has no date or marks of any kind. Das Neue Testament. Philadelphia: Georg W. Mentz (J. Howe, stereotyper), 1831 [504pp with plates] The other has a name in German written twice on the front free endpaper and is dated, January 1836. There is a blue paper cutout marker at p. 189.  The publisher and bookbinder,George Mentz, was not a printer. He used a variety of Philadelphia-based printers to print his books.

Zion’s Harp

 Two identical copies, leather bound with clasps, of Zion's Harp, Die Kleine Geistliche Harfe der Kinder Zions (Lancaster, 1870), lay side by side in this collection kept for a purpose of remembrance . Zion’s Harfe, (Zion’s Harp) was the Franconia Mennonite Conference hymnal. It had 40 select Psalms in a first section, followed by 474 hymns in a second section under a new title, with some variation in the later editions.

These two copies belonged to Henry Mack and Elizabeth Bechtel when they were courting. Elizabeth's is signed "Lizzie L. Bechtel / Feb 11th ’72." His is stamped "Henry S. Mack."

Henry was a chorister whose obituary says that he was “active in Mennonite church work for 60 years, serving as chorister and musical director in many churches in this part of the state.” Historian Wenger calls him and his brother, Andrew Mack, choristers since 1860 (120) so obviously he loved music. He led the singing the whole of his life in several different congregations (Wenger, 120). Henry kept their songbooks together all the years after Elizabeth had died.

New testaments and hymn books were standard fare in Mennonite families, as were catechisms. One of the most popular catechisms was the Christliches Gemuths-Gesprach (1869) by Gerhard Roosen. (Lancaster: John Baer’s Sons, 1869). This has been signed on the first free end paper by Henry's daughter, "Annie B. Mack / Mar 7 1897."

The English translation, Christian Spiritual Conversation (Lancaster, Pa. John Baer’s Sons, 1892.) is also signed, "Annie B Mack. 1897" on the first front free endpaper, A couple of pages are bookmarked, p. 84, on the baptism of small children and p. 292, "On Predestination." (Cited in Funk )

Habermann's Prayers

Another popular devotional in the collection is initialed in pencil on the second front free endpaper, "AM," that is, Annie Mack. It is a dual language German-English translation of Habermann's Prayers of 1873: MORNING AND EVENING / PRAYERS / FOR EVERYDAY OF THE WEEK / BY / /DR JOHN HABERMANN. (Philadelphia, IG. Kohler, 1873). The titles themselves tell a tale. If we think that the use of a book tells us something of the user then we note that several pages are especially dog eared. Page 103, "prayer of a child," may show perhaps the wrestling of young Annie beset with difficulty with her stepmother, buttrying to subdue herself to the good:

"Give me an obedient heart that I many patiently obey, serve and show myself obliging and ready to do every thing which they desire, that is not contrary to the will of God, nor at variance with my soul’s salvation, so that I may receive their blessing and live a long and pleasant life. Protect me against sin and evil society, so that I may not provoke and grieve my parents with hatred, sadness, unfriendliness, contempt, disobedience and stubbornness, so that I may not bring upon myself here on earth both their and thy curse."

So through these books as a window we ask of Elizabeth Bechtel, who lived from 1852 to 1885, whether her love was great enough to live even longer in this testament of herself for future centuries, she for whom otherwise little else is known except that she had red hair and was one of 8 children and was loved and courted by Henry Mack.

John and Mary Bechtel buried five of these children, whose birth and death dates are known, two were buried at Christmas, but they themselves lived into their eighties. That they had both signed their names together in the front of Die Wandelnde Seele fifty years before speaks of  faith and love which did not fail them. How could they have believed that even with the loss of their daughter Elizabeth in 1885 they would be honored more than a century later, and that their lives would be remembered. Unbelievable, that they would be celebrated at some 150th wedding anniversary.

The tragedies in these lives are evident, but what about the triumphs, the enthusiasms, the love? When things look bad, when Elisabeth had died, it was darkest. We learn then that that’s when you most need to believe it will come out all right, because it will. The promise to a thousand generations is partly fulfilled in the ten from now until someone, some family member, stands in your place and remembers you. We learn from these generations what it is to believe in your children, in yourself, in God.

The Rest of the Books

Anna's family, Bechtels, Longacres, Stauffers, Macks, pastors, singers and school teachers who held the communities together. Elizabeth Bechtel's death diminished the reading and thinking of  her daughter Anna, for her mother was not there to buffer the child from the difficulties of younger brothers, farm labor and little schooling. It was in Anna to want education because it was in her family. While her literary remains were sparse, her gifts to her children were not. All finished college. She had few books growing up, Henry's Ledger mentions a few schoolbooks, but no fairy tales. Aside from the catechisms of 1897 there is only an Appleton's Third Reader, dated Oct 28, 1889.

Anna's hunger for the life of the mind was evident  in her conversation of later years and also in the books she gave her daughters that tell the story of what she would not have missed. She could not have been more proud when she complained she lost her daughter Elizabeth who began to read at the age of two, nor done  more to have fostered imaginative delight in her.

This childhood reading included:

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. "Elizabeth Reiff / June 19, 1917. / From Mrs. Lenters."
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. "To Elizabeth / From Mother / Dec. 25, 1917."
Cinderella; or, The Little Glass Slipper and other Stories. "Dec. 1915. Elizabeth Reiff."
Raggedy Ann Stories. "Florence M. Reiff."
A Child's Garden of Verses. Robert Louis Stevenson. "Florence M. Reiff / 3319 N 15th St."
Oliver Twist, inscribed "A. Elizabeth Reiff."
Little Women and Little Men, both inscribed "Elizabeth Reiff."
Longfellow’s Evangeline.
Aurand’s Collection of Pennsylvania German Stories and Poems.

Yes there is a Pilgrim's Progress, a Bible given by her grandfather Mack in 1926, but Anna's attempts to nurture a Romantic imagination in Elizabeth were thwarted by that child's love of the rational, what she herself called "realism," giving no quarter to the fantastic or whimsical. Alice in Wonderland fell  fallow where William Osler would have flourished. In latter years Elizabeth read Malamud's The Fixer with pleasure, liked translations of the Aeneid, Tolstoy, Dickens. She never mentioned that Wahren Christenthum and Die Wandelnde Seele were in her attic let alone signed by these ancestors.

Possessing a Higher Spirit

One of the last  Dutch redoubts of faith and doctrine was the popular catechism, Christliches Gemuths-Gesprach or Christian Spiritual Conversation  (1856) by Gerhard Roosen. It takes a reasoned appeal.

Question: Are there also men who are not conscious of possessing a higher spirit than brutes, and yet maintain, that they can keep their minds in a good state of rest in this life.

Answer: whenever any of these men become of another and a better mind, and get into other reflections, (which cannot take place, however, without divine agency) and continue in them,--they will come not only to a knowledge of the nature of their condition, but also to a knowledge of themselves, and their higher spirit.

Question: “in what then, does man’s true knowledge of himself consist?

Answer: This knowledge consists in two things 1. to know that of and from himself he has no power to do or understand any thing, either in matters external or spiritual. 2. To have a knowledge of his transitory and troublesome state of life” (5-6).

The loss of German devotional ways goes to the heart  of language, culture and art in the picture oriented, word centered, devotional ways Yoder ties to the roots of Central Europe. "From the tombstone to the barn...the six-pointed star with its variations, the tulip-rose-lily, the tree of life" (272), some disagreement is supposed of these origins. Stoudt's "brand of Christian mystical theology leading down from medieval Catholic mystics to Boehme and the Pietist hymnists of the seventeenth century" (Don Yoder, Discovering American Folklife, 274), is compared with less Catholic, more secular Protestant church or sect, or with cast off pagan signs.  But Yoder admits that "the devotional life of the Pennsylvania Germans centered around Bible, hymnbook, and prayerbook, and strangely enough, fraktur" (275).  "It was a visual, moral, and religious symbol of the individual's relation to the institutions within the folk culture--the church, the school, and the family" (275). But these devotional ways were really an understanding of their relation to the natural world. That faith and much subsequent Christian devotion failed about the same time as the complete loss of the natural world.


Hans George Bechtel, George Bechtel a minister in the Palatinate in 1727 came to Philadelphia on the the same ship Jacob Reiff returned from his first trip on, the Mortonhouse. Bechtel preached at Hereford until his death in 1759  (Wenger, 251).

see Bechtel  by Forrest Moyer

"Are there also men who are not conscious of possessing a higher spirit than brutes, and yet maintain, that they can keep their minds in a good state of rest in this life?"  This question is in one of the books. 

John B. Bechtel, Hereford Old Mennonite Cemetery, Bally
The high calling at civilization's evening is the hymn of I Peter 2:9:  Ye are a chosen generation, an holy nation, a peculiar people. Let us seek the courage needed our high calling to fulfill. When beauty and truth are disapproved for their own sake, as  happens to so many works lost, broken, burned and discarded like George Ohl's buried ceramics, remnants may show up. This is so with the library of Elisabeth Bechtel. I added several to its collection to encourage the fact, Abraham Godshalk's, A Description of the New Creature (William M. Large, Doylestown, Pa. 1838), John F. Funk, The Mennonite Church and Her Accusers ( Elkhart, Indiana, 1878), and John Herr, The True and Blessed Way (Harrisburg 1816). Godshalk's credentials are that he is a farmer with no education whatever but his prose style is eminent. I myself did not realize the high cost of the calling of the artist and poet until the enthusiasms began to wane. It is a high calling along side family physicians who see all the worst cases and tend them with compassion that in this day of electronic change pays enough to subsist.

 Other professions might be added, but Godshalk's, "I will yet say, that if any one is desirous of knowing who and what I am, I inform him, that I am a farmer, who was at a pretty early day called to be a preacher of the Gospel, and who has not even had the advantage of a good common education, and have therefore not the power of writing in a polished style. But perhaps it is best so, for if I had been brought up in a theological school, I should perhaps have been filled with so strong a prejudice in favor of what I had learned, as to be forever unfit for an impartial investigation of God's holy word; and thus you and might never have seen the produce of this my impartial investigation (Godshalk, vi)."

 His preface is appealing to anyone not brought to a school or has repudiated them, but to one given the advantages and studied with the eminent and encountered the highest and best poets and novelists of the language for all of life, his preface is even better. It is the bedrock of truth. The highest and best a writer can do is reveal in himself the style of his birth. Mennonites had this impartiality in common, were famous for it and for not conforming to the advantages. Hence spurned, not by choice especially, but by instinct and by lot, they were never able to object. "I cannot yet say that I have arrived at that state of perfection which I have described as belonging in this world, but sincerely wish to" (v). Or sincerely do not wish to.

 Several pages seemed missing from the Preface of the text. Page [iii] ends with the sentence, "I do not contend that known sins may not be overcome;" which is continued at iv with a printer's fragment, "ous, but he who has a clear view of GODS HOLY LAW, will indeed find that he must struggle hard." The Preface is extraordinary in its revelations, as again he confides "this work was originally written by me in German, and afterwards translated from that language into English. ...the scripture passages were taken as they stand in the English bible, and by my own words I knew what I had meant, and therefore was able to make English of them. If the work had been written by another man, I should have been altogether insufficient for the work of translation...but having written it myself, I felt at liberty to make such amendments and additions as to me seemed good. Nevertheless, in all important matters, it is one with the German, so much as language will allow" (iv,v).

 Last evening, Sept 28, a 35th anniversary, I retired with all the adversities suffered the past year waiting payback, to awake at 1 AM and make way to the case to read until sleep. A Description of the New Creature, a small, slender volume in a little stack of books appeared next to Charles Williams' pamphlet Religion and Love in Dante, on top of two folio leather volumes of Whitby on the New Testament.  I had been seriously moved by these ideas of the New Creature encountered as a youth so I took it this neglected volume was intended to remind that state and status to examine fresh its meaning. Enough of New Creature was printed to survive. Its acquisition must have been in this new millennium as already stated, and appealed from my own beginning as a new creature, referred to in the text that says "if any one be in Christ he is a new creature, old things are passed away, behold all things are become new." I am exactly the representation of the new creature Godshalk writes about when he says that "regeneration, at least in its commencement, is a work of the mind, and when it first takes place, it has the lusts of the flesh, yea, all the evil inclinations to war against; and even ignorance itself, together with the temptations and allurements from without."

[This little book can be had online here Abraham Godshalk. There is also a pdf that sees fit to rewrite his text for the modern reader, leaving out all the flavor, as has been done also with old hymns.]



Johann Arndt. Wahren Christenthem Sechs Bucher vom Wahren Christentum…Nebst DessenParadiesgartliein (Four Books Concerning True Christianity).Philadelphia: Georg W. Mentz und Sohn, 1832.
German/English New Testament. New York: American Bible Society, 1870.
Douglas L. Good. The Growth of a Congregation. A History of the Hereford Mennonite Church. 1988.
The Journals of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. Translated by Theodore G. Tappert and John W. Doberstein. Camden, Maine: Picton Press. Fortress Press, 1942.
J. C. Wenger. History of the Mennonites of the Franconia Conference. 1985.
John L. Ruth. Maintaining the Right Fellowship. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1984.
John Joseph Stoudt. Pennsylvania German Folk Art. 1966.
Don Yoder. Discovering American Folklife. Essays on Folk Culture & the Pennsylvania Dutch. Stackpole Books. 2001.
Bechtels of Old Mennonite Hereford, PA