FALK, fělk, JOHANNES DANIEL: German philanthropist; b. at Danzig Oct. 28, 1768; d. at Weimar Feb. 14, 1826. He was the son of a wigmaker who belonged to the Reformed Church, and received but a limited education, until, by the intervention of friends and relatives, he was allowed to study music, and to take part in the musical entertainments in the Catholic Church. In his home he had the opportunity of learning French, which he gradually supplemented by a knowledge of English. In 1787 he was awarded a stipend which enabled him to pursue the study of theology at the University of Halle, but gradually he forsook theology for philology and literature. Filled with plans for a literary career, he settled in Weimar, and was cordially received by Wieland, Goethe, and Herder. Falk's trend was essentially satiric, and he accordingly began to criticize the weaknesses and inconsistencies manifested by the social and poetical conditions of his time. The events which were then agitating Germany finally caused Falk to become more practical in his tendencies, and in 1806 he began the publication of a periodical instead of the belletristic Taschenbücher. The main title of this journal Elysium und Tartarus, was still reminiscent of his former tendency, but its subtitle, Zeitung für Poesie, Kunst und Zeitgeschichte, revealed a new interest in life. On account of its freedom of expression, however, the periodical was suppressed before the battle of Jena (Oct. 14, 1806).
This conflict marked a turning-point in Falk's career. The French commission chose him as a mediator between itself and the populace, and in this position he was enabled to prevent many an injustice and to alleviate much suffering. In recognition of his services the grand duke of Weimar created him a Legationsrat, while the people honored him with the title of "the benevolent councilor." The war claimed still other services from him. Many orphaned children sought refuge with him, and he took them into his home in the place of his own children, who had fallen victims in the struggle. Together with Horn of Weimar he founded Die Gesellschaft der Freunde in der Not (The Society of Friends in Need), and remained its moving spirit. This society assumed the task of distributing the orphaned children in the homes of citizens, although Falk made it a rule to keep some of them in his house until he could form an idea of their capabilities, while a teacher's training was given those who showed an aptitude for learning.
Falk shared with Francke the pedagogic tendency to make confidence in God the center and aim of all activity; not in the punctilious spirit of Pietism, but with freedom and joy. His lofty ideals savor of Pestalozzi in his insistence on the close companionship of teacher and pupil. The beautiful songs, such as O du fröhliche and Was kann schöner sein, which he wrote among and for the children, form a fitting close to his literary career. Although devoid of essentially religious training, and lacking denominational character, Falk's activity, a precursor of Reinthaler's Martinstift at Erfurt and Wichern's Rauhes Haus at Horn, may be said to have been a forerunner not only of educational societies, but also of home missions. This view was voiced by himself when he said, "The chief aim pursued by our society for eleven years seems a form of missionary work, a saving of souls, a conversion of heathen; not in Asia or Africa, but in our own midst, in Saxony and in Prussia"; and he himself characterizes the great turning-point in his life in the following words: "I was one of a thousand scamps in German literature, who thought that they served the world if they sat at their desks, yet by the grace of God I was not, like the rest, made into writing paper, but was used as lint, and placed in the open wounds of the age. So they tear me and pluck me the whole day long, for the wound is deep, and they use me to stanch it as long as a shred is left of me."