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Priestcraft of Intellect.
As native passion dictates. Others, too,
ART. V. --The Life and Letters of Bartholl George Niebuhr ;
with Essays on his Character and Influence. By the Chevalier BUNSEN and Professors BRANDIS and LOEBELL. 2 vols. London, 1852.
The name of Niebuhr has been long familiar to all English scholars. Nowhere, perhaps, have his historical inquiries met with a truer sympathy and appreciation than in England. Nowhere has he found at once more admiring and discriminating pupils. And there are very many who know but little of his writings directly, who are yet conversant with his name and the general character of his labours,-embalmed as they are in the affectionate and weighty words of Arnold, and associated with the widely-popular "Lays” of Macaulay.
Familiar, however, as Niebuhr's name is, and popular as the fruits of his studies may be said to have become, there has been hitherto little known in England of his personal history. For all German readers, indeed, there were the ample means of this knowledge in the “ Leben's Nachrichten über Barthold George Niebuhr," edited by the careful and kindly hands of his sister-in-. law, Madame Hensler. But this work, in three large volumes, and presenting a mass of materials for a life, rather than being itself a life of the historian, was not inviting save to the student, and however much prized in Germany, was but little read in this country. We give a hearty welcome, therefore, to the above volumes. It is true that they cannot, any more than the German work, upon which they are founded, be properly termed a “Life of Niebuhr.” They do not aim to give us, in a complete and artistic form, the portrait of the Man and of the Student as he lived and studied. This is a task that still remains to be done, and that would well reward the doing. But they give us, in a more compact and readable form, the substance of the German work—the most interesting of the numerous letters which chiefly compose it, with the biographical notices of Madame Hensler condensed, and “a considerable amount of additional information." The narrative portions are not interspersed everywhere among the letters, according to the prevalent custom of memoir writers, but they stand in separate detachments, at the head of each section of letters, arranged so as to apply to a separate section of the author's life. This is, we think, a preferable mode of arrangement, and especially as serving more directly to discriminate the character of memoirs from biography in any true sense of the term. It is of great importance to preserve this distinction, but too apt to be forgotten.' We rejoice, there
Memoirs and Biography.
fore, in any feature which tends more clearly to bring it out; which more prominently marks the former, as they properly are only “ Accounts of a Life”*—what the French call “ Memoirs pour servir, &c. ;” materials from which afterwards the shapely and consummate edifice of the Life may be reared by the hand of the artist, but not by any means the Life itself.
Viewing the work in this, its true light, it is one rich in excellence. We do not know, indeed, any work of our time we should more earnestly desire to see in the hands of every student; so instinct is it with all those noblest lessons which the student needs; so bright with interest and meaning for him on every page. Nor is it in a merely biographical point of view by any means devoid of attraction. It presents us with a wide and varied feature, which, if it is but nakedly unfolded here and there, is yet largely illuminated by the author's own graphic powers of description, and the softened and tender lights of an unfailing sympathy with all that is most pure and beautiful in Life, Literature, and Art. We trace, with a somewhat vivid impression, the features of Niebuhr's parental home in Ditmarsh; the singular depth and compass of his early studies; the experiences of his British travel; the vicissitudes and difficulties of his diplomatic career ; his earnest aspirations and untiring labours as a student; and, above all, the high and noble principles that constantly animated him; and his lovely and overflowing affectionateness as a son, a husband, and a father.
It is our intention in the present paper to exhibit, in some degree, this impression of Niebuhr, especially in those relations in which he has been hitherto least known among us. We shall be led also to advert to his special position and character as an historian, and the impulse which he so widely imparted to historical criticism; but it is with the Man and the Student generally that we shall for the most part concern ourselves.
Barthold George Niebuhr was born at Copenhagen on the 29th of August 1776. His father, the well-known Carsten Niebuhr, the oriental traveller, was a man of great energy and simplicity of character, distinguished for political shrewdness, and earnestly devoted to geographical and historical studies. Of his mother there is little known. She seems, however, to have been a woman of education and refinement-delicate in health, and sensitive in temperament; with warm and somewhat irritable affections, yet easily pacified, affectionate, and tender. Barthold obviously inherited from both his parents their characteristic qualities ;—his enthusiasm for geographical and historical lore, and a certain tenacity of disposition, from his father : his depth and tenderness of feeling, and a certain impatience and hastiness of judgment from his mother, whom he is also said to have chiefly resembled in personal features.
His father, on his return from his Arabian travels, settled first in Copenhagen, and subsequently in Meldorf, the chief town of the province of Ditmarsh, to which he was made secretary. This remote home of his childhood left a strong influence both on the tastes and opinions of Niebuhr. Flat, marshy, and treeless, his youthful eye rested on no object of external beauty; a circumstance to which he attributed his long-continued insensibility to the charms of nature. The country, however, was rich in a certain historical interest, highly prized by Niebuhr. There still survived in the province, remnants of its old republican institutions which he studied with great curiosity. Every reader of his history must remember how familiarly his mind recurs to these relics of Ditmarshian republicanism, in his efforts to throw light upon points in the ancient Roman constitution. The solitude of the place, with only his books and his father to guide his studies, helped also strongly to nourish in him that habit of independent inquiry which was the spring of all his future distinction. He learned, as a mere boy, that bold self-confidence in the value of his studies which clung to him through life, and which, amid so much that might have permanently withdrawn his attention from them, led him ever to return to them with all the fondness of a first love, and all the energy of a paramount duty.
The boy early distinguished himself by his quickness and intelligence. His memory, which in mature life was so remarkable, displayed its strength from the very first. His father, writing to Eckhardt, his brother-in-law, when he was only six years old, says, “ He studied the Greek alphabet only for a single day, and had no further trouble with it: he did it with very little help from me. The boy gets on wonderfully. Boje says he does not know his equal; but he requires to be managed in a peculiar way. May God preserve our lives and give us grace to guide him right.”
The Boje mentioned in this letter of his father, exercised a lively and happy influence over the mind of the young student. He was prefect of the province, and at the same time a literary personage of some consequence, being editor of the “ Deutsches Museum.” He had an extensive library, rich in French and English, as well as German books, to which young Niebuhr had free access.
to have taken a warm interest in the boy's education; and to have sought to foster in him, above all, those aesthetic and poetic impulses, which were most likely to be neglected under the mere tuition of his father. In a letter
Intelligence and Information of his Boyhood. 425 of Boje's, written in 1783, he thus speaks of his young friend and his studies :-“ This reminds me of little Niebuhr. His docility, his industry, and his devoted love for me, procure me many a pleasant hour.
A short time back I was reading Macbeth' aloud to his parents, without taking any notice of him, till I saw what an impression it made upon him. Then I tried to render it all intelligible to him, and even explained to him how the witches were only poetical beings. When I was gone, he sat down (he is not yet seven years old) and wrote it all out in seven sheets of paper, without omitting one important point, and certainly without any expectation of receiving praise for it': for when his father asked to see what he had written, and showed it to me, he cried for fear he had not done it well. Since then he writes down everything of importance that he hears from his father or me."
The intellectual activity of " little Niebuhr" appears certainly to have been of an extraordinary kind. Essays, poetical paraphrases from the classics, sketches of little poems, a translation of Poncet's Travels in Ethiopia, an historical and geographical description of Africa, written in 1789, when he was only eleven years of age, attest the wonderful excitement and varied range of his mental capacity. When only in his eighth year, he could without help read any English book; and from about the same period, he began to share in the warm interest in literature which prevailed in Germany towards the close of last century, and eagerly welcomed the appearance of any new work from the pens of Klopstock, Lessing, and Goethe. These are almost the verbal statements of his biographer, who continues :-“But that interest in politics which became the master spring of his life, was first awakened at about the age of eleven. It is said that when the war with Turkey broke out in the year 1789, it so strongly excited the child's mind, that he not only talked of it in his sleep at night, but fancied himself in his dreams reading the newspapers, and repeating the intelligence they contained about the war; and his ideas on these subjects were so well arranged, and founded on so accurate a knowledge of the country, and the situation of the towns, that the realization of his nightly anticipations generally appeared in the journals a short time afterward.”
The well-known poet Voss, who had married Boje's sister, occasionally visited Meldorf at this time. The great scholar speedily discovered Niebuhr's wonderful talents, and gave him all assistance he could in his classical studies. Amid causes of subsequent estrangement, the latter never forgot the kindness which he owed to the author of " Luise."
The remarkable attainments of the boy seem to have attracted