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Chapter 5:

To C. S. Daveis, Portland.

Gottingen, February 29, 1816.
. . . . You will perhaps expect from me some notices of German literature, as I am now established in the very midst of it; and if you do not, I may as well write you about it as about something not half so interesting. . . . . To come to the subject, then, and begin in defiance of Horace,—ab ovo Ledce,—you know there are in this land of gutturals and tobacco two dialects: high German, so called because it is indigenous in the interior and higher parts of the country; and low German, so called because it is indigenous in the North, among the lowlands, and on the coast. How long these dialects have existed, it is not now possible to determine; but they are probably as old as the earliest population of the country, since traces of them have been found in Tacitus. The low German, which is the vernacular of the lowest class in this part of the country, is a much more harmonious and happy language in its elements than the high German, which is the language of all people of any education through the whole country, but which is a vernacular only at the South. Both were equally rude, indigent, and unpolished, until the time of the Reformation,—the epoch from which all culture is dated in Germany.

This great revolution accidentally gave the empire of literature to high German. It happened to be the native dialect of Luther. He translated his Bible into it, wrote in it his hymns and catechisms, which are still in use, and made it the language of the pulpit and religion, and, of course, the language of letters; for in Germany they have ever since been inseparably connected. The Thirty Years War, however, which immediately followed, and wasted and degraded Germany [88] more, perhaps, than a country was ever wasted and degraded by war before or since, effectually stopped the progress of cultivation, and to this, and to the troubles which for above a century afterwards continued to arise as often as they were appeased, from their division into religious parties and principalities, is clearly to be traced the slow progress the Germans made, while the nations around them were fast advancing to the luxuries of a refined literature. At length, when time and collision had worn them down to an uncomfortable kind of quietness, such as you would naturally expect from their clumsy and shapeless constitution, they began to put forth their awkward strength. Their circumstances, however, did not all favor them. From local situation and political interest they were more connected with France than with any other nation; and the gay splendor of literature at the Court of Louis XIV. at once carried captive their imagination and taste. Nothing could be more unfortunate than this, for nothing would less apply to the rude and powerful language, and the fiery, but untempered talents of Germany, than the straitlaced rules of French criticism. In this prison-house, however, the shorn and manacled strength of the land toiled half a century with ignominious skill and success; and the many monuments it has left behind are as much the subject of patriotic abhorrence and contempt at the present day as the more recent ones, which lately covered their hills, to mark their political servitude and degeneracy. . . . At length, between 1760 and 1770, from causes which perhaps it is impossible accurately to trace and estimate, but the chief of which are certainly to be sought in the humble servitude under which it had so long suffered, German literature underwent a sudden and violent and total revolution. It is equally difficult to determine precisely to whom is to be given the honor of leading the way in this emancipation. If any one author or work must be selected, it would probably be the ‘Literary Letters,’—a periodical publication managed by Lessing; but this was so instantly succeeded and surpassed by the earliest works of Klopstock, Wieland, and Goethe, that it is evident the spirit of regeneration had long been working in the land, and that, if Lessing was the first to call it forth, it was rather from accident than extraordinary genius or boldness.

The literature of Germany now sprang at once from its tardy soil, like the miraculous harvest of Jason, and like that, too, seems in danger of perishing without leaving behind it successors to its greatness. Besides the four whom I have named, I know of no authors who have enjoyed a general and decisive popularity, and who have [89] settled down into regular classics, except Haller, Muller, the elder Voss, Schiller, and Burger. This number is certainly small, and Goethe alone survives, to maintain the glory of the deceased generation of his friends and rivals. But, narrow as the circle is, and though the strictness of posterity will perhaps make it yet narrower, still I know of none in the modern languages—except our own—where one so interesting can be found as the circle of German literature. It has all the freshness and faithfulness of poetry of the early ages, when words were still the representatives of sensible objects, and simple, sensible feelings rather than of abstractions and generalities; and yet, having flourished so late, it is by no means wanting in modern refinement and regularity. In this singular state, uniting much of the force and originality of the barbarous ages to enough of the light polish of those that are more civilized, it has continued just about fifty years; but in the last thirty no considerable author has appeared. Much of this barrenness is, I am persuaded, to be charged to the philosophy of Kant, which for nearly twenty years ruled unquestioned, and absorbed and perverted all the talents of the land. It was a vast ‘Serbonian bog, where armies whole have sunk,’ and from which even the proud and original genius of Schiller hardly escaped. Its empire, however, was soon gone by; but then followed the French usurpation, which overturned at pleasure the literary establishments of the land, and silenced systematically all authors who did not write as they were bidden. This, too, has gone by; but whether their literature will return with their returning independence and peace, is a problem time only can solve.

To Edward T. Channing, Boston.

Gottingen, April 19, 1816.
. . . .You tell me you have been amused with the occasional hints I have given you of the life of a student at a German university. You shall then have more of them, and particularly an account of some events connected with this subject, which have lately occurred here under my immediate observation.

There are, at all the considerable literary establishments in Germany, secret associations among the students, consisting of all persons from the same country or province, which are not only connected with all similar associations at the same university, but with all similar associations throughout Germany. The bond of their union is a chivalrous, or, if you please, a captious rule of honor, and its basis is [90] the sword. The object is not literary, but strictly municipal, and the whole advantage is the irresistible influence which the combination can give to its decisions, either against a student or a citizen. At Gottingen, there have been, time out of mind, seven of these societies,—according to the seven principal States from which the students come,—as the Hanoverians, the Prussians, the Brunswickers, etc. They are in defiance of the laws of the University, and have often been broken up by the government, but have always reappeared under new names. Sometimes they have been called ‘Orders,’ sometimes ‘Bonds of Virtue,’ sometimes ‘Clubs of Honor,’ etc. The last were called ‘Landsmannschafts,’ or ‘Associations of Countrymen.’ Their object was twofold: to settle quarrels among their members, and to defend themselves against all impositions of the citizens. But the great power their combination gave them proved tyranny in injudicious hands, and the members were obliged to fight duels where no offence was really given, and the citizens were punished where no injustice or fraud had been practised. They had but two modes of proceeding, and both were sufficiently summary. If one member was offended with another, his society compelled him to fight a duel, appointed the seconds and the witnesses, and saw that satisfaction was properly given. To be sure, these duels hardly deserve so imposing a name, for they were fought with such weapons and such armor that they were seldom bloody and could never be fatal; but still their number was so considerable that they were absolutely a nuisance, for every slight offence was settled by them.

This was the first mode; the second was when a member offended the club, or a citizen a member, and then the punishment was by ‘verschuss,’ or non-intercourse. If, for instance, a tradesman had cheated a student, if his landlord had treated him unkindly, or anybody with whom he had connection had offended him, he complained to his club. If they found the complaint supported and sufficient, the offender was put into ‘verschuss,’—that is, no student was allowed to have anything to do with him. If he was a shopkeeper, his custom was gone; if he was a restaurateur, nobody would have his dinner from him, any more than if he sent out poison; and if he let rooms, nobody would take lodgings of him. In short, whatever might be the occupation of the offender, it was gone. Instances of this sort of punishment are not at all rare. Last year, a student, for having spoken disrespectfully of the ‘Landsmannschaft,’ was put under the ban of the Empire, and, after braving the whole University some weeks, and its marked contempt, went to Leipsic, but found himself received [91] there with the same injuries, and was finally obliged to change his name and go to Jena. A baker, who had done nothing worse than sue a student for his regular bill, was put into ‘verschuss,’ and, after striving in vain to live independently of the students in a town supported entirely by them, found himself so much in debt, that in despair he shot himself. And the very man in whose house I live, having offended a student in his capacity of confectioner, was compelled, above a year since, to let his shop to another, and has been starving on its rent in the vain hope that the students will at last give up the persecution; but he has just sold it in despair.

These are the bad effects of this remarkable system. That it has its good effects also, you will easily believe; for, if it had not, it would not be tolerated a moment by the government, and indeed could not long exist among a large body of young men who are really studious and regular to a remarkable degree, and whose notions of justice are, like those of all young men, essentially pure and unperverted.

The advantages of the system are, that it gives a character and esprit de corps to the whole motley mass of the students, which, in universities like these in Germany, could not otherwise be given to them; that it enables the pro-rector and professors, by governing a few of the heads of the clubs, to control the entire multitude under them more effectually than the laws will enable, or the spirit of the institution permit them to do directly; and that it introduces in their behavior to one another, and their conduct to the government, a degree of order and decorum, and a general gentlemanly spirit, which nothing else can give to a thousand young men brought together where they have no responsibility, at an age when they have not yet learnt to behave well without a superior influence in some sort to compel to it. The evils, on the contrary, are the captious rules of honor which are maintained by it among the students, terminating in innumerable contemptible duels, and occasionally a flagrant injustice to a citizen,—though certainly to the citizens it does much more good than harm, for they are much more disposed and interested to cheat the students than the students can be to oppress them.

On the whole, therefore, the system seems to me to be bad, and one which ought to be exterminated, though at the same time I must confess to you that many of the professors think otherwise, and are persuaded that, while the laws of the University are so loose and weak, the students must have a municipal system of their own. [92]

Much undoubtedly depends on the government for the time being. Under a vigilant pro-rector, who prevents these clubs from gaining too much strength or boldness, they may do good; but under such pro-rectors as professors may commonly be expected to be, who are interested to preserve their own popularity, and especially under a decidedly weak pro-rector, they must do much mischief. This has lately been the case here.

During the year ending in February, the pro-rectorship had fallen to two professors who did anything rather than execute the duties of first magistrates of the University, and, of course, during their government these secret ‘Landsmannschafts’ had increased in boldness until their existence and acts were as notorious as those of the academical senate; and the duels multiplied till, contemptible as they are individually, they became an intolerable nuisance. Just at this time Prof. Mitscherlich, the editor of Horace, became in his turn pro-rector, and proved to be as much too severe as his predecessors had been too feeble and lax. He cited at once many students for inconsiderable and forgotten offences, committed under the reign of the last pro-rectors, and was going on to purge the University of its follies more thoroughly than was prudent, or even desirable, when an event occurred which gave a higher direction to his inquiries and punishments. A student quarrelled with his club in the following manner. A house had been put into ‘verschuss,’ and a student being found still to frequent it, the sentence he had violated fell on himself. Exasperated at this, he threatened, if he were not reinstated, to expose the whole secret system to the pro-rector. You will easily imagine that this injudicious threat produced exactly the opposite effect from what he had intended. He was excommunicated with book and bell, and received with contempt and injuries where-ever he went. Still further enraged at what he ought to have expected, he actually sent a regular and ample memoir to the prorector, and fled the city. The moment the fact was known, or rather suspected, such a sensation was excited as no one can imagine who did not witness it.

There was no tumult or violence, but the whole appearance of the city was changed. The streets, always before filled only with young men hastening to their lectures, were now crowded with little ‘assemblages,’ as Gov. Gerry would call them, so that it was difficult to pass on the sidewalks; the benches in the lecture-rooms, where a vacant seat was a rarity, grew visibly thin and empty, and wherever you met a student he had the hurried and anxious air of a [93] man of business. The whole character of things was altered. The first determination was to have personal vengeance on the traitor. Guards were posted on the roads to prevent his escape; for two nights a watch of three hundred patrolled the ramparts and the streets; and if he had been caught, he might have escaped with his life, but he would have boasted of nothing else. Fortunately his prudence, or that of the pro-rector, had secured his flight before his treason was suspected, and he has not since been seen or heard of. His information, however, has enabled the pro-rector to arrest the heads of the clubs, and possess himself of their records, where he found a regular list of all the officers and members, amounting to between five or six hundred; and, among other curious documents, seized a protocol containing a detailed account of ninety-six of these harmless duels fought in five months.

So full a discovery precluded all subterfuge or defence. After a week of excitement and cabal, during which all study was suspended, and there was a kind of reign of terror in the University, the most prominent members of the clubs began to leave the city. This was immediately prevented by a public ordinance, laying them all under city arrest, and forbidding them to go out of the city gates under any pretence. This excited a new effervescence, for it indeed was a measure of needless severity, and fell upon the just as well as the unjust. New councils were held, and after much deliberation a deputation was sent to the government at Hanover, praying for its interference. This, however, produced no effect. The pro-rector still went on with his investigations, which were undoubtedly often vexatious and unwise, though certainly, in general, just; and at length, after three weeks of anxious and burning excitement, such as I should not have imagined the affair would have justified, five students were publicly exiled, ab urbe et agro; twenty-four received a consilium abeundi, or common expulsion; and the rest a general reprimand and warning.

Thus for the fifth or sixth time these secret clubs—which really grow out of the circumstances of the German Empire, and are perhaps formed by a kind of instinct in the German character—have been suppressed. About two hundred students have left the University in disgust; but they will not be missed three months hence, even if none of them return, as I suppose many will, on cooler reflection.

It is thought, however, that the want of these troublesome aids to the order of academic life will be occasionally felt during the next [94] year in the rudeness, which, in such an interregnum, is always observed to creep into the manners of the students; and nobody doubts that under some other name or form they will reappear and be again crushed. I did not mean, my dear Edward, to have written you such an alarming epistle, and you will perhaps repent having set my pen going on a subject where it is so much easier to be voluble than amusing. But this is your affair; and, good or bad, it is a double letter, and I shall expect two in return. . . . . Do you think of me sometimes as the sun sets behind the Brookline hills? We have a sunset here, too, and I never see it without thinking how often we have admired it together from the Mall.


Geo. T.

To Dr. Walter Channing.

GoTtingen, May 17, 1816.
. . . . You ask me a great many questions about Blumenbach, and I imagine you have received anticipated answers to them, for in several letters to you and to other friends I have said a great deal about him. He is the first man in the University, past all doubt, whether in relation to his original talents, to the vast variety and accuracy of his knowledge, or to his influence over the other professors and with the government, and his general knowledge of the world and of men. . . . . His collections in all the different branches of natural history are very remarkable; the most curious is that of one hundred and seventy-three skulls, of all ages, countries, and people, which he has brought together to illustrate his doctrines respecting the human anatomy, and which are arranged with philosophical neatness in a room to which his family have well given the name of Golgotha. It is extremely amusing, as well as instructive, to hear the old gentleman pour out his learning and enthusiasm in explaining the advantages of the collection, and the distinctive peculiarities of each of its members. ‘What can be more beautiful,’ said he, day before yesterday, ‘than the fair forehead and Grecian nose of that Circassian,—what can be more deformed than the wide interval between the eyes of that Calmuck and the projecting chin of that Hottentot,—or what more loathsome than the low sensuality expressed in the sharp projection of the upper jaw of that Jew?’ The marks he pointed out were certainly all there; but it is impossible to go into the details of this system here. . . . .


To Elisha Ticknor.

Gottingen, June 5, 1816.
. . . .I was telling you of my acquaintance. Saturday evening I commonly spend with Eichhorn, whose immense learning, joined to his extreme vivacity, make it as pleasant as it is useful. In the last respect, however, I find the time I spend with Prof. Dissen the most profitable. He is still a young man of hardly thirty, and yet has been already called as professor to three universities, and is looked upon here as superior to Heyne. I desired to have two hours a week of him, to pursue the literary history of Greece systematically, under his direction. This, however, he declined, saying that what he could do for me in this way he should not consider as instruction, but as an amusement; and therefore, if I would come every week and spend one or two evenings with him, his advice and assistance would always be at my service. I commonly go, therefore, once or twice in the week at eight in the evening to him, and if I get home before eleven I think I am early, though I have trespassed beyond my rule.

Indeed, there is no man in Gottingen of my acquaintance who comes so entirely up to my idea of what a scholar ought to be as he does. His prodigious learning has not by its amount impaired the freshness of his feelings, or quenched an enthusiasm which is so lively as to be even injurious to his feeble constitution, nor by its minuteness prevented him from having the most general and philosophical views of the nature and objects of his profession; while at the same time he has a deep religious sensibility, of which I know no other example here, and an earnest and prevalent desire to impart his learning and do good, which consecrates all his exertions.

You see, therefore, my plan. I have every day three recitations, and besides these study nine hours, which is as much, I suppose, as my health will bear. My chief objects are still Greek and German, my subsidiary objects Italian and French, my amusement literary history, chiefly ancient, and books that will fit me for my future travels. . . . . Add to all this that I am perfectly well, and just contented enough to keep me always industrious, that I may not fall into the horrors of homesickness, and I do not think you will be dissatisfied with my situation.


To Edward T. Channing.

Gottingen, June 16, 1816.
. . . . In one of your last letters, dear Edward, you told me that your brother William1 would like to hear something about the kind of metaphysics taught in the schools here. I forgot at the moment to answer this inquiry, and should perhaps have forgotten it still longer, if I had not last week read his third pamphlet in the controversy with Worcester; and the natural desire which this excited, of recalling myself to the memory of one who had just given me so much pleasure, reminded me of his wish, and I determined to take the first leisure hour I should find to fulfil it.

In the first place, it is necessary to take a few dates, to see how rapidly the metaphysical systems have followed each other. From 1790 to 1800 Kant ruled unquestioned through all Germany. For three or four years succeeding, Fichte was the lord of the ascendant, till Schelling pushed him from his stool, and kept it a few years. But before 1809 had closed, a rebellion of common-sense through the land had dispossessed them all, and since that no one has succeeded to their influence. Of their systems it is not necessary to speak. It is only necessary to know that Fichte and Schelling divided the system of Kant, and that the one, by pushing his idealism too far, in the German phrase, made Nature independent of God, or undeified Nature; while the other, being a man of poetical feeling, went into the other extreme, and almost identified God and Nature,—so that before the defeat of Kant's system as a whole, and then in both parts separately, his school came to a total bankruptcy. In this state you must now consider German metaphysics, taken as a system, or a collection of systems, and in this state they must remain till some man of high talents comes forward, like Kant, at once to destroy and to build up.

But you will ask whether these systems and revolutions left no traces behind them which are still visible. Certainly, very many and very important ones. First, you may observe an extreme excitement in the minds of the Germans upon all metaphysical subjects, produced by such rapid and important revolutions. These three great metaphysicians were men of very rare endowments, of uncommon weight and force of talents, and to the sort of uproar and tumult in which they kept the country for twenty years, is undoubtedly to be traced no inconsiderable portion of that general metaphysical [97] activity and acuteness, and that spirit of philosophical vehemence, which now distinguish Germany from all other nations. I mean that vehement exertion which is now making to have all sciences and knowledge reduced to philosophical systems, which is certainly doing wonders in some respects. And, secondly, you may observe an extreme unwillingness to receive any new system. The whole generation, in this respect, seem like men who have just come out from a long campaign, and are pleased with nothing less than the thought of beginning a new one.

To these two consequences of the success and failure of Kant, Fichte, and Schelling, is, I think, in a great measure to be traced the present condition of metaphysics in Germany. Within the lives of the present generation of instructors, these three systems have had their respective triumphs, and of course every one who wishes to be thought a metaphysician must lay the very foundation of his pretensions in a thorough knowledge of them all. But within the same period, too, they have all been exploded, and of course every one who recollects the mortification of that fall will be careful how he exposes himself to a similar fate. The first makes them thorough, deep, and acute; the last makes them cautious. The consequence of both is that the number of powerful metaphysicians in Germany is at this moment very great, and that they are almost all eclectic.

I do not mean, when I talk of the overthrow of these three systems, that no adherents to them are now to be found. Far from it. In Leipsic, where revolutions in modes of thinking are effected with difficulty, perhaps the majority of those who examine such subjects are still followers of Kant. In Berlin, where Fichte still lives and has lately much distinguished himself by some very powerful pieces to arouse and sustain the Prussian spirit against the French usurpation, his philosophy has still some active friends. And, in Jena, the feelings awakened by Schelling's eloquence and enthusiasm have not yet grown cold.

But, after all, the number is comparatively small, and the spirit feeble; and if you go through Germany and take the whole mass of metaphysicians together, you will rarely, very rarely, find one who professes himself of either of the schools. Particularly at the universities, you will find that each one has a system of his own, collected from the disjecta membra of the systems of Kant, Fichte, and Schelling. These fragments he has commonly formed, with his own additions, into a more or less harmonious whole, to which his hearers [98] listen with all due attention and reverence, but in which they trust hardly more than in the forgotten heresies of Leibnitz and Wolf. So that you may set it down as an almost universal fact that the teachers and disciples are alike eclectics.

A young man at the university commonly gets this freedom by hearing three or four different professors expound and defend as many different systems.

This is a very remarkable, but I am not ready to say an unfortunate state of things. The worthiest object of metaphysical studies is to excite and enlarge the faculties, and form deep and thorough thinkers. Never was this so completely and so generally effected as it now is in Germany; and, as the object is attained, why should we complain or regret that it is not done by the means which we have usually considered indispensable?

As to the peculiar character of these metaphysics, you will get all the information necessary from Mad. de Stael. They are undoubtedly very different from the metaphysics taught by Locke, Reid, and Stewart. The Germans reproach the English with treating such subjects psychologically, or, in other words, not sufficiently distinguishing the difference between ideas and sensations; and the English reply that the Germans are unintelligible idealists. The difference between the two is very great, and, moreover, it is, I think, a natural and constitutional difference.

In England, from the character of the people and the nature of the government, which for a thousand years have been continually acting and reacting upon each other, many things must be made to serve some practical purpose, and nothing is valued which is not immediately useful. In Germany, on the contrary, the national character, from the first intimation of it in Tacitus, and the tendency of the government, from its first development to the present day, have always had an effect directly opposite. A man of science here lives entirely isolated from the world; and the very republic of letters, which is a more real body in Germany than it ever was in any other country, has no connection with the many little governments through which it is scattered without being broken or divided. From this separation of the practical affairs from science and letters to the extraordinary degree in which it is done in Germany, comes, I think, the theoretical nature of German literature in general, and of German metaphysics in particular.

This is the way in which I account for the origin and prevalence of Locke's system of sensations, and Hartley's and Priestley's materialism [99] in the one country, and Kant's and Fichte's high, abstract idealism in the other; because in England the man of letters must be more or less a practical man; in Germany, he is necessarily as pure a theorist or idealist as the Greeks were. But, whether my explanation of the cause be right or wrong, the fact remains unquestionable, and the next thing you will desire to know, will be the effects of this system of things.

They are undoubtedly manifold; more perhaps than I suspect, and certainly more than the Germans themselves believe; but two are very obvious, and more important probably than all the others. The first is an extreme freedom, and, as I should call it, latitudinarianism in thinking, speaking, writing, and teaching on all subjects, even law, religion, and politics, with the single exception of the actual measures of the government. A more perfect freedom, and in most cases a more perfect use and indulgence of it, cannot be imagined than is now to be found in Germany; and nobody can read the books published, without observing their high abstract nature, and seeing that their free tone is derived almost, perhaps altogether, from the general character of the prevalent metaphysics. The second is an extreme mental activity, produced by the necessity which every scholar has felt himself under to understand all three of the great systems which, within the last thirty years, everybody has been obliged to talk about; and then a consequent necessity that he who writes a book must, whatever be his subject, write it in a philosophical, discriminating spirit, and on a broad and systematic plan.

On this last are founded the chief improvements which the Germans are now making in literature and science, and both are to be almost exclusively attributed to the peculiar character of their metaphysics. These, then, are the two most important results of the German metaphysics: the first, bad in the extravagance to which it is now carried; and the second, essentially good, and continually tending, I think,—unless my views of human nature are too favorable,—to diminish and extirpate the evil of the first.

I have now, my dear Edward, explained to you as well as I am able in a letter the three points I intended to explain. . . . . Such as it is, it is as good an idea as I can give you, in so short a space, of the present condition of metaphysics in Germany. . . .

To Elisha Ticknor.

Gottingen, June 20, 1816.
. . . . .We have always been accustomed to hear and to talk of the republic of letters as a state of things in which talent and learning [100] make the only distinction; and the good-natured Goldsmith even went so far as to make a book about it, and describe it as accurately as a dealer in statistics and topography. But, after all that has been said, and after all his description, the thing itself remained as unreal as Sidney's ‘Arcadia,’ or Sir Thomas More's ‘Utopia.’ The system of universal patronage in England, which it did not need Miss Edgeworth to show, is essentially bad, even when most successfully applied; the splendor of the Court of France, which made all its literature and literary men as cold and polished as itself; the little tyrants of Italy and the great ones of Spain and Portugal,—prevented everything like a liberal union of the men of letters, and an unbiassed freedom in the modes of thinking in all these countries.

In Germany, however, from the force of circumstances and character, a literary democracy has found full room to thrive and rule. Here, there can be no broad system of patronage, for the people are too poor and the governments too inconsiderable. The splendor of a court can have no influence where there is no metropolis; and as for tyranny, I do not think it has ever pressed very hard on Germany, except in the French times; and they were too short to produce a lasting effect, especially as the reaction has been so violent.

The men of letters here, therefore, have always been dependent for their bread and reputation on their own unassisted and unembarrassed talents and exertions; and as the higher and more responsible classes about the courts, etc., have always spoken a different language, and had different feelings, manners, and views, and a different literature (I mean French, which, however, is now going out of fashion), the men of letters gradually became separated from the active and political men, until at last this division became so distinct and perfect that they formed an entirely separate class through all the German States, and have long since ceased to be amenable to any influence but that of the general opinion of their own body. In this way, a genuine republic of letters arose in the north of Germany. At first it comprehended but a small portion of the territories of the unwieldy empire, hardly more than Saxony, Prussia, and Hanover, and the small States lying round them; but, as Protestant learning and philosophical modes of thinking and liberal universities were extended, the limits of this invisible empire extended with them.

The German and reformed portion of Switzerland soon came in; soon after Denmark, and then a part of Poland; and now, lately, the king of Bavaria, by the establishment of gymnasia, and an academy [101] on the German system, and by calling in the Protestants of the North to help him, has set his improvements in motion, and the Emperor Alexander, by founding German universities and appointing German professors to them, have almost brought Bavaria and Russia into the league of letters. In this way, without noise and almost without notice, from Berne to St. Petersburg, and from Munich to Copenhagen, a republic has been formed, extending through all the great and small governments, and independent of the influence of them all, which by its activity unites all the interests of learning, while by its extent it prevents low prejudice from so often oppressing individual merit; and finally, by its aggregate power resting, as it must, on general opinion, it is able to exert a force which nothing that naturally comes under its influence can resist.

I could give you many curious instances and proofs of the efficiency of this system, and of its power to separate the men of letters from the other classes of society in their opinions and feelings; but I have room for only two.

When you talk with a man in civil life of his country, you will find that he means that peculiar and independent district in which he was born, as Prussia, or Hesse, etc.; and you will find, too, that his patriotic attachment to this spot is often as exclusive and vehement as that of John Bull or a true American. But talk with a man of letters, and you will instantly perceive that when he speaks of his country he is really thinking of all that portion of Germany, and the neighboring territories, through which Protestant learning and a philosophical mode of thinking are diffused. Nay, further, take a Prussian, or Hanoverian, or Hessian politician or soldier, and he will talk with as much horror of expatriation from Prussia, Hanover, or Hesse as Bonaparte ever did of ‘denationalizing’ a flag; but a professor or a rector of a gymnasium moves as willingly from one of these countries into another, and feels himself as much at home after his removal, as if it were only from Cassel to Marburg, or from Berlin to Halle.

My second proof is, that they not only feel themselves to belong to an independent body of men, but are really considered to be so by the several governments under which they happen to live. I do not now refer to the unlimited freedom of the universities, and the modes of instruction there, which make each professor independent; I refer merely to the mode in which professors are removed from one country to another. The king of Prussia would not appoint to any military or civil service, or even to any clerical office in his dominions, any but a Prussian; the king of Hanover, any but a [102] Hanoverian, etc.; but if a man of letters is wanted, all such distinctions are not even thought of; nor is it the least reproach to the person appointed, or the least offence to his government, that he is seduced from his native country, though it certainly would be the highest in the other cases. Thus Eichhorn was brought from Weimar; Boeckh, now so famous in Berlin, was a Hanoverian; Heyne was a Saxon; Buhle, the editor of Aristotle, is in Prussia, etc.; and new instances of this sort are occurring every day through the whole of Germany.

These two proofs are certainly sufficient to show the existence and power of a republic of letters. If I had room, I would like to show you its especial influence upon the individuals, institutions, and territories which fall within its sphere; but this must be done by details too numerous for a letter; and besides, when you recollect the present political, moral, and local situation of Germany, you will easily see its most important tendencies, and conjecture many of its coming effects. . . . .

Always your affectionate,

Geo. T.

To Elisha Ticknor.

Gottingen, July 6, 1816.
. . . . I know not, dear father, that I can say anything more welcome to you than that my studies of all kinds go on well. I have lately taken upon me to learn something of the present political and moral condition of Germany. This I have undertaken under the direction of Prof. Saalfeld, a young man who has lately distinguished himself by several publications on the present politics of Europe, and by a course of lectures on the ‘Spirit of the Times.’ I have but little leisure to give to this branch of study; for, useful and interesting as it is, it is not necessary; and I have long since learned that what is not necessary to my purposes must be considered as amusement. . . . . As yet I have met with nothing in my inquiries that has more struck and moved me than the means by which Prussia has made herself the first power in the German Empire, and perhaps placed herself in a condition at last to control its destinies.

By the peace of Tilsit, Prussia gave up to France about one half of her population, and became at once the subject of a system of plunder and outrage such as no nation, I presume, was ever before subjected to, and which soon brought her to the verge of despair. In the dark and melancholy winter of 1808, when the measure of French [103] power and European suffering were alike full, at a moment when all hope of relief seemed to have fled from the Continent, and Prussia herself to have been marked out as the peculiar object of French vengeance,—at this moment, when the rest of Germany lay in abject subjection, the ministry of Prussia conceived and announced the determination of making up in moral strength what they had lost in physical. From that moment the character of Prussia began to change. The means were no sooner wanted than they were found. More freedom was gradually given to the lower classes; more schools were established for their instruction; societies were formed under the direction of the government whose object was to promote industry, order, and economy among the people; and finally the king founded a new university at Berlin, from which a free spirit has gone forth that has wrought like a fever through all Germany. In short, all the talents, influence, and activity which the councils of the king could command, were directly applied to repress luxury, to promote industry, and to diffuse information among the people, and thus give a new moral character to the whole nation.

Such designs were suited to the spirit of the times, and they therefore succeeded beyond the hopes of those who first conceived them. It was in this way that Prussia was gradually and systematically prepared for emancipation, and enabled to act with more vigor and success when that moment arrived. The government now find this spirit dangerous. They have used it as long as it suited their purposes, and would now gladly suppress it. The people, however, who have thus been taught freer notions than they had before known, and who above all feel that they have emancipated themselves rather than been emancipated by the government, are not willing to return to their original subjection. In consequence of this, the spirit of the government and the spirit of the people are now decidedly at variance, and time must determine which will prevail.

To Mrs. E. Ticknor.

Gottingen, July 21, 1816.
. . . . In my own situation I know not that any change has taken place since I last wrote to you, excepting in our dinner society at old Judge Zacharia's. Madame Blumenbach and her daughter have gone to the baths at Ems for their health and amusement; and as the knight does not choose to eat his dinner quite alone, he dines with us. His unwearied and inexhaustible gayety of spirits, and his endless [104] fund of curious and learned anecdote, make him at once the centre and life of a party, which, to be sure, was before neither very lifeless nor very sad. Every day he has something new and strange to tell; and as he takes a particular delight in teasing me, he commonly relates something out of the way respecting our North American Indians, which by a dexterous turn he contrives to make those present think is equally true of the citizens of the United States, and ends by citing some of the strange opinions of Buffon or Raynal to support himself, and put me out of countenance. Of course we come at once into a regular discussion, in which he goes on to allege more perverse authorities against me, calls us a younger and feebler creation, says that we have not yet freed ourselves from the rude manners of the wilderness, etc., etc. This soon finishes with a general laugh, sometimes against one side, sometimes against the other, though oftenest, I think, against me; for, if I have the best of the argument, he always has, and always will have, the best of the joke.

This, however, though it ends the discussion for the time, does not finally conclude it. The next day the old gentleman comes with his books and authorities to support all he had said the day before; and this he is generally able to do by some means or other, for there is nothing so absurd that has not at some time been said about us; and though he knows as well as anybody what is true, and what is exaggerated or false, he proceeds at once to argue for victory and not for truth. Still, with all his inexhaustible learning, he is often unable to find perverse authorities enough to support what in a moment of thoughtless humor he has said merely to tease me; and so, to supply what is wanting in the litera scripta, he invents extemporaneously whatever suits his immediate purpose. Thus, a few days ago, as I had denied that the Americans use the Indian steam-baths made by pouring water upon hot stones, the old gentleman had come with a curious letter of William Penn's on the subject, which he read aloud in English; but as this went no further than to the Indians, and not to the whites, he adroitly inserted a sentence or two gratis, from which it seemed the practice was common in Boston; and he did the thing so admirably that I did not at first suspect the trick. Two days afterwards he undertook to play off a similar joke with a French book. But, as I had luckily remarked that it was printed in 1588, above thirty years before the first colonists came to New England, I obtained at once a famous victory, and turned the laugh decidedly against him.

Yesterday one of the servants of the library came to my room with three huge quartos, and Prof. Blumenbach's compliments, saying they [105] were too large to bring to dinner, and therefore he sent them for his own justification, with marks put in where his authorities were to be found,—the whole of which were manifest falsehoods or exaggerations; but they served him as sufficient ground for crying an Io triumphe when we met at noon. In this way we have been going on these ten or twelve days, and I suppose shall continue to go on so till the ladies come back from Ems; so that you see I am not likely to relapse into low spirits for want of gay society and occasional excitement.

I gave Blumenbach, some time since, my dear father, your remembrance and your acknowledgments for the kindness he has shown me. The old gentleman was certainly well pleased to receive such a salutation from such a distance; as little George said, mine were ‘the farthest and longest kisses he ever had.’ I must hasten to close my letter. All well.

Geo. T.


Gottingen, September 12, 1816.—Within the last three days, I have seen a good deal of Wolf, the corypheus of German philologists, who is here on a visit, for the purpose of seeing the library . . . . His history is curious, and is an explanation of his character. He studied here when he was very poor and wretched, and, as he says in some of his publications, ill-treated by Heyne. His first occupation was, I think, an inferior place at Ilfeld, from which Heyne caused him to be expelled, no doubt with justice, for his excesses. He then went as pro-rector to an inconsiderable gymnasium at Osterode, in the Hartz. There he lived for some time unnoticed and unknown, till he attracted attention by his edition of Plato's Symposium, which is the more extraordinary, as the notes are in German. This gave him a professorship at Halle, to whose spirit his talents and temper were adapted, and where he at once made himself a name and influence. In 1795 he published his Prolegomena to Homer,—one of the most important works ever written on a philological subject. Then followed his bitter contest with Heyne, who was willing to claim for himself a part of the honors of the revolution in philology which this work effected. It ended with the triumph of Wolf, though in the course of the controversy he discovered feelings which made good men regret that Heyne should have been defeated. When Heyne's Iliad came out, in 1802, Wolf and Voss published one of the most cruel and scurrilous reviews of it that ever flowed from the gall of offended pride, to which Heyne replied by a vignette in his Virgil of 1806. After this, Wolf seems to have been tolerably quiet at Halle, till the [106] change was made by the French, when he went to Berlin, with the title of ‘Geheinerrath,’ and a salary of 2,500 thalers and no duties, and now lives there, in his old age, in a kind of otium cum dignitate, which is almost singular in the annals of German universities, and which is the envy of his coadjutors and rivals.

As a man of letters and learning, I know of few living for whom I have so great a veneration as for Wolf. In genius he surpasses, perhaps, nearly all the philologists who have lived, and in learning and acuteness is behind very few. A genuine laziness and love of ease, however, have prevented him from publishing much; but what he has published has become a canon,—as his text of Homer, though he gives no notes to support his alterations; his rules of criticism, in his Prolegomena, though not carried out and exemplified; his editions of Herodian, and of the Disp. Tusculanae, etc., etc.,—all things of little compass, but pregnant with important consequences and changes. . . . . His course for Homer was commonly attended by 180 to 200, and I am persuaded that very few professors, in any faculty, have delivered so great a variety of lectures as he has, with such skill, thoroughness, and success. I do not know what more could be desired of him, but that he should have published more, and should not have ceased to instruct.

But the more I admire him as a scholar, the more I dislike him as a man . . . . He has openly quarrelled with most of his friends; he disgraced himself by his political conduct when the French were in Halle; and he has sunk from all respect by his vices in old age . . . . . In intercourse I have found him pleasant, chiefly from his boldness and originality. His remarks on all subjects are striking and often new; he is arrogant and vain, talks much of himself, and repeated to me with ill-concealed satisfaction a remark he had found in the Classical Journal, published in England, that they knew of only two scholars now on the Continent,—Wyttenbach and Wolf. Of his enemies he never spoke, unless it were once of Voss, whose translation of Homer he ridiculed; and, though by a strange accident I walked with him this afternoon to the tomb of Heyne, it seemed to excite in him no feeling but curiosity. To like such a man is impossible; but as a matter of curiosity I must say that, during the last three days, in which I have been often and long with him, he has very much amused me.

Dictated in 1854.

When I was in Gottingen, in 1816, I saw Wolf, the most distinguished Greek scholar of the time. He could also lecture extemporaneously [107] in Latin. He was curious about this country, and questioned me about our scholars and the amount of our scholarship. I told him what I could,—amongst other things, of a fashionable, dashing preacher of New York having told me that he took great pleasure in reading the choruses of Aeschylus, and that he read them without a dictionary! I was walking with Wolf at the time, and, on hearing this, he stopped, squared round, and said, ‘He told you that, did he?’ ‘Yes,’ I answered. ‘Very well; the next time you hear him say it, do you tell him he lies, and that I say so.’

When I went from Gottingen to Berlin, Wolf told me to go to his house,—a bachelor establishment,—and to look at his books. I went, and amongst many interesting things happened to see on his working-table a Latin and German lexicon, which I knew had been out but five years. I took it up, wondering what such a scholar should need it for, and, to my great surprise, found it much worn by use.

During a six weeks vacation, Mr. Ticknor and Mr. Everett left Gottingen, September 13, 1816, for a tour in the North of Germany, visiting all the principal cities, and every distinguished university and school, whether in a city or small town; Mr. Ticknor always making a minute study of them, and writing full descriptions of them in his journal. He devotes nearly a volume of it to Leipsic, Dresden, and Berlin, having given a fortnight to Dresden, a week each to Leipsic and Berlin, and the rest of the time to Wittenberg, Halle, Weimar, Jena, Gotha, etc. They returned to Gottingen, November 5.

To Edward T. Channing.

Leipsic, September, 17, 1816.
. . . . Leipsic is a very remarkable place, and presents itself to everybody who comes with a judicious acquaintance with it, under three distinct forms,—a city associated with many famous recollections in early history, and the Marathon of our own times, where the inroads of a tumultuous barbarism were finally stopped; as a trading city, for its size the most important in Europe; and as a University, one of the largest, most respectable, and ancient in the world.

The second is, of course, the aspect in which it is first seen by a stranger; and I assure you, when I came again into the crowded streets and noisy population of a commercial city, after having lived an entire [108] year in the silence and desolation of Gottingen, I felt almost as I did when I was cast among the multitudes of London, or as Cato did when he complained of the magna civitas, magna solitudo. But that, of course, is wearing off. I am making acquaintance with the people attached to the University, and thus begin to forget that I am in a trading city, to whose semiannual fair twenty thousand strangers resort . . . . Among the great men of the University whom I have seen, are Hermann, whose treatise on the Metric you know, I suppose, about as well as I do Chitty's treatise on Pleading, and Beck, who is as familiar to you in his capacity of editor of Euripides, as Polluxfen & Co. are to me as editors of Coke, of whom I now recollect nothing but his full-bottomed wig and a long case which I had occasion to look up. . . . . Hermann and Beck are good men, and so is Prof. Schafer, who published Herodotus, though he is obliged to support himself by correcting proof-sheets of books he ought rather to comment, because his person and manner are not sufficiently interesting to fill his auditorium with hearers and his purse with Frederick d'ors. En passant, I will tell you a story of him. You know Porson is the god of idolatry to all the Hellenists of England, great and small, whether Ἀττικώτατος, like Cicero's instructor in rhetoric, or Groeculi esurientes, like Juvenal's, poor fellow!—and if you do not, you can find it out by reading a Life of him in Aikin's Athenaeum. He died one day, and his successor in Cambridge, and another of the present generation of Greek scholars in England, who are no more like Porson than the degenerate heroes of Virgil's poetry were like their more fabulous ancestors, published his Remains under the title of Adversaria, so that the book came out with great circumstance, under the authority, as it were, of the University of Cambridge. The book was certainly, for a collection of disconnected critical remarks, a good book, and Schafer republished it here, taking the liberty to correct some mistakes in the latinity,—a circumstance which he very modestly notices in his preface. This was a tremendous blow to the pride of the English scholars, though poor Schafer, who had been educated in the German notions of the importance of an exquisite latinity, thought it an inconsiderable oversight. It seemed incredible to the classical wits at Cambridge, that a book of Porson's, so carefully and so often revised by those into whose hands his papers came, should contain so vulgar a fault as a grammatical error; and Schaffer was knocked down in the Cambridge Review very unceremoniously for a calumniator and a liar. His friends immediately wrote to him to defend himself, but he simply answered that quarrelling was not a branch of his [109] professorship, and that his best defence would be a collation of the two editions; though, in turning over the leaves of his English copy, he showed us, by accident, Chersonesus used as a feminine, and quem as a relative consequent to cenotaphium, which, though I conceive them to be no disgrace to Porson, and little to his publishers, are still an entire justification of all Schaffer had said in his preface . . . .

Farewell. It is late, and I am tired, as I always am in a strange place, if it be only from seeing unwonted objects and faces.

Still your Yankee friend,


September 22.—In the afternoon we went through the gallery of pictures which has made Dresden so famous through the world; and, though I had read the admiration of Lessing, Herder, and Winckelmann, it surpassed my expectations. From looking at a collection of above thirteen hundred pieces an hour or two, I cannot of course say anything; but of the effect of one piece on my unpractised eye I cannot choose but speak, for I would not willingly lose the recollection of what I now feel. I mean the picture called the Madonna di San Sisto . . . I had often heard of the power of fine paintings, and I knew that Raphael was commonly reckoned the master of all imitation, and that this was one of the highest efforts of his skill; but I was not prepared for such a vision. I did not before imagine it had been within the compass of human talent to have formed a countenance of such ideal beauty as the Madonna's, on which a smile would have seemed earthly and unholy, or a child like Jesus, where the innocence of infancy is consecrated and elevated, but not marred in any of its natural sweetness and fascination by the inspiration of the divinity which beams forth in the mild but fixed earnestness of his looks. I was not prepared for this, for I had never before seen a work of one of the great masters; and even now that I have felt the influence of Raphael's genius descend upon me, I find it almost impossible to believe that there is still a point in the art that ought to produce the effect that this picture produced on me as I stood before it.2

Berlin, October 9, 1816.—I dined with Mr. Rose, the English minister, and a considerable party of strangers, the Bavarian envoy, the Count de Chastellux, a beautiful English lady by the name of Atterson, etc. Mr. Rose is about forty-five or fifty years old, has long been in the English diplomacy, and came here directly from [110] Munich, a year since, where he has been minister nearly two years. . . . . In his manners he is more American and democratic than English, and even in his dress there was a kind of popular carelessness which does not belong to his nation. He talks, too, without apparent reserve on subjects private and political, said a great deal of his mission to America, pronounced Jefferson to be a man of great talents and acuteness, but did not think much of Madison, spoke well of many democrats whom he thought honest, able men, etc., etc., and in general seemed to understand the situation of the politics and parties of the United States pretty well, though his mission lasted only five months, and he was hardly out of Washington . . . . . Among other things, we talked of Lord Byron; and he mentioned to me a circumstance which proves what I have always believed,—that Lord Byron's personal deformity was one great cause of his melancholy and misanthropy. He said that after his return from Greece, Lord Byron, in one of his fits of extravagance, sat up all night with a friend of his own character in a London coffee-house, for the purpose of going early in the morning to an execution. As they sallied out, a woman stood before the door, whom he supposed to be a beggar, and so gave her money, which she indignantly rejected, threw back upon him, and, with much other vulgar invective, called him a ‘clump-footed devil.’ They went on to the execution, waited with the common crowd for their miserable amusement, and returned; but Lord Byron said hardly a word the whole time, and it was not till they had been an hour or two longer together, that he burst out into a violent fit of passionate eloquence,—told them he was an outcast from human nature; that he had a seal of infamy set upon him more distinct than that of Cain, that the very beggars would not receive money from one like him, etc.; showing that during this interval of three or four hours he had, like Tiberius, kept these few words alta mente reposta. Mr. Rose added, that the time had been when he might have been cured of this deformity, which arose only from a weakness in the joints, but that he was too impatient to submit to the tedious and painful process necessary, and that his misanthropy is now a mixture of hatred of nature and himself for this fault of his person, added to a general satiety of all extravagance and debauchery.

Halle, October 19, 1816.—This evening we passed with a considerable party at the house of Halle's Magnus Apollo, Chancellor Niemeyer. He is now, I imagine, about sixty-three years old, and— what is uncommon among German men of letters—he is a finelook-ing, gentlemanly man. His whole career has, I believe, been confined [111] to Halle, where he has long been the first man, head of all their establishments, ruler of the University, etc., etc. In 1806, he was thought by the French a man of so much consequence, that he was one of the six whom they carried off to France as hostages for this quarter of the country, and he remained there half a year. During this exile he became acquainted with Jerome, and when the kingdom of Westphalia was established, obtained, through him, indulgences for Halle. Jerome had confidence in him, and he deserved it, not by becoming a Frenchman, but by remaining faithful to the University, and desiring nothing but its good. He was, therefore, in 1808, made chancellor and rector perpetuus, and soon after knight of the same order that Heyne received. The last honor, of course, vanished with the Westphalian dominion; the chancellorship he retains, but the rectorship he found a burden too great, and laid it down, having borne it eight years.

The party at his house was pleasant, and its tone more genteel and sociable than at Gottingen. The professors who were there, perhaps, less learned, and more polished in their manners. Among them was a son of the Chancellor, formerly professor at Marburg, Gesenius, author of the Hebrew lexicon, Jakobs, etc. All were gay. The evening passed off lightly, except the time I was obliged to listen in polite silence to a sonata of Mozart twenty-four pages long; the supper was better than German suppers are wont to be.

October 20.—I called this morning on Prof. Sprengel, and delivered him a letter from Dr. Muhlenburg of New York, with a small package of botanical specimens. He seems to be a man of quick feelings, and it was almost amusing to see how suddenly he passed from tears at receiving a letter from one he loved, who had so long been dead, to delight at receiving so many curious botanical specimens which he had never seen before . . . .When he had got partly through his delight at the specimens, he asked me a multitude of questions about Dr. Muhlenburg, and told me many anecdotes of him, which showed how true his feelings were to the memory of their early friendship. He interested me more than German scholars commonly do. . . . .

He remains, by general consent, not only one of the best botanists in Germany, but a good scholar, and an interesting and amiable man . . . .

In the course of the forenoon, we visited Prof. Ersch, the librarian, who has shown at least enormous diligence in his works on German literature since 1750, a collection of titles of the books, [112] treatises, pamphlets, etc., published during this period in Germany, making twelve octavo volumes. We called, too, on Prof. Knapp, the oldest professor in this University, and Director of the Theological Seminary. He is very old. He is also at the head of the missionary societies in this quarter of Germany, and has recently written for one of their publications a short but interesting history of missions. As a literary man, his merit is his Latin, which he is supposed to write and speak as well as almost any man of his time. . . . .

I dined with Prof. Sprengel. The dinner was poor,—such an one, perhaps, as few German professors would have been humble enough to have asked a stranger to; but, what I have not found before in a single instance, he made no apologies. The consequence was, that I was well contented, and had leisure to admire the extent of his literary knowledge, which, without the least show, was gradually opened to me.

After dinner he carried me to his neighbor, La Fontaine's, author of a great number of romances, one of which, ‘The Village Curate,’ has been republished in America. He is sixty or sixty-five, lives very pleasantly just outside the town, on the beautiful banks of the Saal. His mode of life is rather curious. He is in the church, but his place is merely nominal, and to support himself in living as he likes he writes. This he does not find pleasant, and therefore writes no more than is necessary. Twice in the year he labors night and day, produces a romance, sells it to the booksellers, and from the profits is able to have for the remaining five months the comforts and luxuries he desires. I found him with Prof. Niemeyer; we were soon joined by Prof. Ersch, Prof. Jakobs, etc. The old gentleman's gay volubility, which indicated his literary fertility, kept everybody alive about him, and we passed two hours in a rational kind of happiness with him. . . . .

In the evening we made a visit to old Hofrath Schurtz, editor of Aeschylus, and conductor, for I know not how many years, of the Allgemeine Literatur Zeitung. He was formerly professor at Jena; he is now above seventy years old, but possesses a vivacity remarkable even in a German man of letters. In good-nature he is said to surpass all his contemporaries. On this account, as Hermann told us, Wolf could never get along with him, for if he attacked Schurtz in conversation for any opinion whatever, Schurtz would always turn it off with a joke, and say nobody could be more willing to give up an opinion or a criticism than himself, for he advanced them only as specimens, and was ready to abandon them to their fate. This is true, [113] as any one may see, who reads the notes to his Aeschylus, where, with learning and acuteness, there is often a carelessness which is inexplicable, without this key to his character. Yet with all this levity and learning, he is obliged to work like a dog: he reads his lectures, is editing Cicero, conducts the Philological Seminary, superintends the Journal, and from all these together is obliged to correct fifteen or sixteen proof-sheets every week. And yet I hardly know any young man of five-and-twenty that is more amusing.

I went to the Botanical Garden to take leave, but did not find Prof. Sprengel, who gave it all its interest, when I last saw it, and on my way home visited the Halloren. There are now only about fifty families, who live together, and earn a poor subsistence by working in a salt-mine here, by teaching swimming, showing their dexterity in the art for money, and by catching birds,—particularly larks. They are curious only as the last supposed remains of the ancient Wendish nation, who have preserved their dress and customs, though not their language, from the time that Charlemagne transplanted the Saxons here, and thus exterminated gradually this rude and dangerous people.

The evening we passed at the Chancellor's, with his family, in the usual simple gathering, which the Germans are generally too proud to permit a stranger to join. His children, the sons with their wives, and two or three intimate friends pass Monday evening with him; and I know not when I have seen anything more natural and refreshing. The girls were in their calico dresses and colored vandykes, seated at their sewing and mending; the young men came in their frock-coats; and the Chancellor, with his wife, sat in homely simplicity on the sofa, and enjoyed the circle which affection had brought about them.

At eight o'clock, however, I took leave of them, and went with the Chancellor to a club supper, where most of the professors meet on Monday evenings. There were eighteen or twenty present this evening, and among them our old friend Knapp, Rudiger, who knows many languages, and looks like a raw farmer from the district of Maine, Voss, Professor of History, etc. The evening passed away pleasantly; there was little eating or drinking, but much amusing conversation, and at eleven o'clock everybody went home, and we bade farewell to the Chancellor and Halle.

Weimar, October 25.—We sent our letters to Goethe this morning, and he returned for answer the message that he would be happy to see us at eleven o'clock. We went punctually, and he was ready to [114] receive us. He is something above the middle size, large but not gross, with gray hair, a dark, ruddy complexion, and full, rich, black eyes, which, though dimmed by age, are still very expressive. His whole countenance is old; and though his features are quiet and composed they bear decided traces of the tumult of early feeling and passion. Taken together, his person is not only respectable, but imposing. In his manners, he is simple. He received us without ceremony, but with care and elegance, and made no German compliments. The conversation, of course, rested in his hands, and was various. He spoke naturally of Wolf, as one of our letters was from him,—said he was a very great man, had delivered thirty-six different courses of lectures on different subjects connected with the study of antiquity, possessed the most remarkable memory he had ever known, and in genius and critical skill surpassed all the scholars of his time. In alluding to his last publication, he said he had written his ‘Life of Bentley’ with uncommon talent, because in doing it he had exhibited and defended his own character, and in all he said showed that he had high admiration and regard for him.

Of Lord Byron, he spoke with interest and discrimination,—said that his poetry showed great knowledge of human nature and great talent in description; Lara, he thought, bordered on the kingdom of spectres; and of his late separation from his wife, that, in its circumstances and the mystery in which it is involved, it is so poetical, that if Lord Byron had invented it he could hardly have had a more fortunate subject for his genius. All this he said in a quiet, simple manner, which would have surprised me much, if I had known him only through his books; and it made me feel how bitter must have been Jean Paul's disappointment, who came to him expecting to find in his conversation the characteristics of Werther and Faust. Once his genius kindled, and in spite of himself he grew almost fervent as he deplored the want of extemporary eloquence in Germany, and said, what I never heard before, but which is eminently true, that the English is kept a much more living language by its influence. ‘Here,’ he said, “we have no eloquence,—our preaching is a monotonous, middling declamation,—public debate we have not at all, and if a little inspiration sometimes comes to us in our lecture-rooms, it is out of place, for eloquence does not teach.” We remained with him nearly an hour, and when we came away he accompanied us as far as the parlor door with the same simplicity with which he received us, without any German congratulations.

In the afternoon, we called on Prof. Thiersch, who is here on a [115] visit. He is thirty-two, and is one of the rare instances of a peasant raising himself to the learned rank in society. He was sent to the ‘Schule Pforte’ by a village which had this right, and afterwards studied at Gottingen,—was an instructor in the gymnasium there, and, while thus employed, attracted the attention of John Muller, the historian, who said of Thiersch and Dissen, who were then not twenty-five years old, that if the art of studying the Greek classics was lost, these two young men had knowledge enough to restore it. . . . .

In the evening he took us to the house of a friend, Mr. Von Couta, a councillor of state; where we met a daughter of Herder, a cousin of Klopstock; Prof. Hand, the editor of Lucretius, a young man of thirty-five; and Myer, the archaeologist, now Goethe's intimate friend, an old man of sixty or seventy, short and fat, with very odd manners, but lively and amusing in conversation.

October 28.—Prof. Riemer, who is second librarian of the Public Library, called on us and amused us above an hour, by describing Goethe's mode of living, peculiarities, etc.,—facts one cannot get in books, or from any source but the knowledge of an intimate acquaintance. Prof. Riemer lived nine years in Goethe's house, and knew him, of course, from the lowest note to the top of his compass. He said that Goethe is a much greater man than the world will ever know, because he always needs excitement and collision to rouse him to exertion, and that it is a great misfortune that he is now without such influence and example as when Herder, Wieland, and Schiller were alive.

I asked what had been his relations with those extraordinary men. He replied that, from holding similar views in philosophy, Goethe and Schiller were nearest to each other, and Herder and Wieland; but that after the deaths of Schiller and Herder, Goethe became intimate with Wieland. Schiller, he said, had profited much by his connection with Goethe, and borrowed much from his genius,—among other pieces, in his William Tell, which Goethe had earlier thought to have made the subject of an epic poem; but now they are all dead, and since 1813 Goethe has been alone in the world.

He has much on paper which has never been published, and much in his memory which has not been put on paper, for he writes always by an amanuensis, to whom he dictates from memoranda on a card or scrap of paper, as he walks up and down his room. Of his views in physics and comparative anatomy, he has published little, but a programme by a medical professor at Jena (Oken) has lately made a great noise, in which the doctrine that the brain is formed from the medulla spinalis was, no doubt, from hints first given by Goethe. [116]

Among the many unpublished things he has on hand, are parts of a continuation of Faust, which Riemer had seen, in which the Devil brings Faust to court and makes him a great man; and some poems in the Persian style and taste which he wrote during the last war, to give a relief to his imagination and feelings by employing himself on something that had no connection with Europe.

He lives now, in his old age, in unconsoled solitude; sees almost nobody, and rarely goes out. His enjoyment of life seems gone, his inclination for exertion gone, and nothing remains to him, that I can see, but a very few years of cold and unsatisfied retirement.

To Elisha Ticknor.

Gottingen, November 9, 1816.
Once more, dear father and mother, I date to you from Gottingen, but from Gottingen how changed! Five days ago we arrived here, after an absence of eight weeks. As I entered the city, I felt in some sort as if I were returning home, for I knew that I was returning to that quiet occupation which in Europe is my only happiness; but I did not dream of what awaited me. I sprang from the carriage to go to my room, but was stopped by an Irishman of the name of Orr, who studies here, with the question, ‘Do you know two of your countrymen are here?’ ‘Is it Cogswell?’ said I, involuntarily; not because I trusted myself to hope it, but because it was what I desired beyond anything else in the compass of possibility.

In a moment I was with him, at ‘The Crown’; and though I had not been in bed for thirty-six hours, I did not get to my room till midnight . . . . And yet, when I have been alone, I have had enough to think of3. . . . . I have thought seriously and thoroughly, and the state of the case is such that the final decision must rest with you, for the three difficult points are more your affair, my dear father, than mine.

The first is, the amount of compensation offered to me. This is a salary of $1,000 and fees, which, from the present state of literature among us, cannot in twenty years exceed from $300 to $500 more; so that from the professorship I cannot expect above $1,300, or at most $1,500 a year. This is enough for me, as long as I continue unmarried, and I could live upon it as contentedly as upon $10,000 a year; but I am now making an arrangement for life; and, though I [117] assure you my hopes have not fixed on any particular person, yet I know very well that in any country, and most of all in America, marriage is a sine qua non to happiness, and that there are not many persons to whom it would be more necessary than to me. This, then, is the condition to which I ought to look forward; but for this the professorship is no sufficient provision. I cannot, therefore, accept it, unless you are able and willing to make up the income to the amount necessary to support a family.

The second point is, the Spanish part. Here is at once a new subject of study proposed to me, to which I have paid no attention since I have been here, and which I have not taken into the plan of my studies and travels in Europe. If I am to be a professor in this literature, I must go to Spain; and this I cannot think of doing, without your full and free consent. This winter I must remain here, of course; the next summer I must be in France, and the next winter in Italy. I willingly give up Greece, but still I find no room for Spain. If I go there as soon as the spring will make it proper, in 1818, and establish myself at the University of Salamanca, and stay there six months, which is the shortest time in which I could possibly get a suitable knowledge of Spanish literature, my whole time will be absorbed, and England and Scotland will be sacrificed. This last I ought not to do; and yet, the thought of staying six months longer from home is absolutely intolerable to me. If it comes to my mind when I sit down to dinner, my appetite is gone; or when I am going to bed, I get no sleep. Yet, if I take this place, I must do it, and I do not question I could carry it properly through; for, after the last six months here, I do not fear anything in this way; or at least ought not to; but are you willing? Without your consent, I will not for an instant think of it.

Finally, are you satisfied with the office and the occupation? For myself, I say freely, that the occupation would be pleasant to me, and that I doubt not, in this office, I could, better than in any other, fulfil my duties to God and my neighbor; but still, if you be not satisfied, I do not desire it.

The case, then, stands precisely thus: you, my dear father, have done so much for me, and have made so many sacrifices for me, that I have no other wish than so to spend the remainder of the time we may live together in the world as will most promote your happiness and my mother's. An offer is made to me of an establishment for life, which necessarily implies farther exertions and sacrifices on your part. I do not ask them, I do not desire them. I can live happy [118] with you at home, and easily earn in some other way the support that may be necessary for me. If, however, you, of your own accord, desire me to accept this office, and willingly make the sacrifices that are necessary to it; if you are disposed to add to the income what is necessary to support a family; if you are disposed to have me yet another half-year absent, so as to make in all four years; and, finally, if you are willing that I should live separated from you the greater part of the year,—I will accept. I send you, therefore, two letters for the President: one affirmative, one negative. Choose, dear father and mother, whichever you please, and be assured your choice will make me happy.

If you had mentioned the subject in your letters, or if from Cogswell I could have gained a hint of your wishes, I should have sent but one of them. As it is, your decision cannot be difficult, since in either case it must be proper.

Your affectionate child,

To Edward T. Channing.

Gottingen, November 16, 1816.
Two months ago, my dear Edward, I wrote you from Leipsic, and on my return here found your letters of August 9th and September 14th. I thank you for them, as I do in my heart for all your letters, and read them with grateful pleasure throughout, even that part of your last in which you abuse the German literature. You must, however, permit me to answer this. ‘I am an elder soldier, not a better,’ and may claim to be heard on the ground of experience, if not of disinterestedness. If anybody chooses to say the literature of Germany is poor, feeble, good for nothing, etc., I have no disposition to disturb him in his opinion,—chacun à son gout. He cannot enjoy what I can,—and I, on the other hand, no doubt, am incapable of some pleasures which he perceives. But when a man comes out like the author of a ‘Review of Goethe's Life,’ and says Schiller is the first genius Germany has produced, or, like yourself, that German poetry is obscure, artificial, etc., I am bold to say, with all due respect, the man knows nothing about the matter. Again, if a man says, ‘I am going to give an account of Goethe's life, as he himself represents it,’ and then draws a caricature of it, as is done by the Edinburgh Review, I say he is dishonest, without entering into the question whether the book is defensible. Or, if, like the author of the ‘Review of the Ancient German Poetry,’ he says, Bouterweck's book on this subject is indifferent, [119] I reply, without inquiring whether the judgment be accidentally right or not, that the man is a scoundrel, for every fact and every opinion in his Review is pilfered from this very book, and he evidently knows nothing of the early history of German literature which he has not found in it. Yet this is the way the Germans are every day judged by foreign nations. Fortunately, however, the grounds of accusation are so different that all cannot be true, and their incoherence and inconsistency are the best possible testimony to the ignorance of the persons who make them.

To-day comes a Frenchman, and cries out, like Bonaparte, against the ‘metaphysique tenebreuse du Nord’; to-morrow comes another Frenchman, like Villers, and says he will build a bridge that shall conduct the empirics of France to the simplicity of German philosophy. Mad. de Stael complains of Goethe's tragedies for being too simple, and the Edinburgh Reviewers complain of them for being too artificial. You praise the Village Pastor, whose name I have never heard in Germany, except when I have inquired about it. The critics of the North say the reading of Schiller's Robbers makes an epoch in every man's life; from which remark, it is apparent the innocent do not know that, though Schiller's countrymen are aware of the strength of character and talent which were necessary to produce in his circumstances, and the circumstances of the country, such a tragedy as the ‘Robbers’ at the age of twenty-one, yet that their good sense and good taste have banished it long, long since from the stage, and ceased to read it except as a curious proof of misdirected genius, though it is now domesticated in the English theatres.

Perhaps you will ask what I mean by all this tirade against other people's mistakes. I mean to show you by foreign proof that the German literature is a peculiar national literature, which, like the miraculous creation of Deucalion, has sprung directly from their own soil, and is so intimately connected with their character, that it is very difficult for a stranger to understand it. A Frenchman, or indeed any one of the Roman nations, generally makes as bad work with it as Voltaire with Shakespeare, and for the same reasons; for it deals with a class of feelings and ideas which are entirely without the periphery of his conceptions. An Englishman, too, if he studies it at home only, generally succeeds about as well,—but show me the man who, like Walter Scott, has studied it as it deserves, or, like Coleridge, has been in the country, and who has gone home and laughed at it. Mr. Rose, in Berlin, told me he would defy all the critics of his nation to produce such an instance. [120]

After all, however, you will come round upon me with the old question, ‘And what are your Germans, after all?’ They are a people who, in forty years, have created to themselves a literature such as no other nation ever created in two centuries; and they are a people who, at this moment, have more mental activity than any other existing. I have no disposition to conceal that this literature has many faults; but if you had read Goethe's Tasso, or his Iphigenia, or his ballads, you would never have said their poetry lacks simplicity; or if you had read the tales of Musaeus, or Wieland's Oberon,—even in Sotheby,—or fifty other things, you would not have said ‘the Germans do not know how to tell stories.’ I am not at all disposed to conceal from you that this mental activity is in my opinion very often misdirected and unenlightened,—but, even when in error, you see that it is the dark gropings of Polyphemus round his cave, and that when such ponderous strength comes to the light, it will leave no common monuments of its power and success behind it. So much for Germany,—a subject upon which I will thank you not to set me going again, for I do not know well when to stop, and have not time to run on. . . . . Farewell My respects to your mother.


The subject of the professorship at Harvard College, opened in the letter to his father, but left unmentioned in this later one to Mr. Channing, was henceforward an important element in Mr. Ticknor's thoughts and plans. It was under discussion for a year, as the length of time necessary for receiving answers to questions and propositions made on opposite sides of the Atlantic prolonged the period of uncertainty. It will not appear again in these pages till after his return to America. His acceptance of the place which he was asked to fill was written by him in Rome, and is dated November 6, 1817.

1 The Rev. William Ellery Channing.

2 A description of the picture is omitted.

3 The first announcement of his nomination to be professor at Cambridge.

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