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A Protestant Pastor on Courtship and Marriage among Propertied Farmers and Tenant Farmers in Westphalia (1786)
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[ . . . ] One doesn’t have to look far for the causes of these instincts which develop so early and so strongly. The tenant does not only sleep in the same small room with his children, but in the same bed, even once they have reached maturity. They witness marital intimacies which cannot be kept secret enough and listen in on exchanges which must arouse. The natural result of this is speculation in order to satisfy the awakened tyrant, and if they lack the opportunity to do so in a natural way they will invent silent sins, for necessity is the mother of invention. If the tenant’s children rent themselves out to the landlord, they are in the company of more common folk and eat better and more substantial food than at home. The more substantial food, in addition to dirty conversations and a heart void of principles, can only serve to completely kill the seed sown in school and by religious instruction. I have often secretly listened in on conversations between young people, which could not be viler on Tahiti or Kamchatka, and the shamelessness of lewd peasant girls may only be surpassed by whores in a bordello.

It is a particular skill in farm girls’ education to teach maturing girls ambition as a threshold to lust. The landlord’s daughter is familiar with the servants and treats them as equals. And yet both sides remain conscious of the difference between them, which they image to be bigger than it is. [ . . . ] If the landlord’s daughter does not stand to inherit the farm and if her honor is somehow compromised, she may not expect to be courted according to her wishes and station, despite all the immorality, for the men are not just prudish but also delicate. This is a major inhibitor and it proves that moral motives may be very powerful if the people’s mindset is favorable to them. If a dishonored tenant’s daughter happens to have some means, however, or if the deflowered landlord’s daughter stands to inherit the farm, one is not too strict about these things.

Source: Johann Mortiz Schwager, “Über den Ravensberger Bauern” [“On the Ravensburg Peasant”], Westphälisches Magazin zur Geographie, Historie und Statistik [Westphalian Magazine for Geography, History, and Statistics]. Edited by P.F. Weddigen. Volume 2 (1786), Issue 5, pp. 55-58.

Reprinted in Jürgen Schlumbohm, ed., Kinderstuben, Wie Kinder zu Bauern, Bürgern, Aristokraten wurden 1700-1850 [Upbringing, How Children Became Farmers, Middle-Class Citizens, and Aristocrats 1700-1850]. München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1983, pp. 78-81.

Translation: Insa Kummer

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