« PreviousContinue »
While yet in the vigor of early manhood, after his mind had been enlarged by travelling in his own country, and a part of France, and after having passed five years at the court of the enlightened Prince of Bückeburg, Herder was invited to accept a professorship in theology at Göttingen, a university, then and still distinguished for the learning, independence of thought, fidelity, and talent of its numerous members. His election was made ineffectual by a circumstance of rare occurrence. The reigning king of England, in the exertion of his power as king of Hanover, and Rector of the University of Göttingen, put a negative upon the appointment, because his majesty was informed, that Herder's religious opinions were not orthodox.' We make no comment on such an exertion of arbitrary power. The German princes at home were far more free and more just. They recognised the truth of the fact, that religion does not suffer from freedom of inquiry, that by the conditions of our being, the elevating feelings and faith, which connect man with bis Maker, appear under the most various forms, and are modified by the different circumstances of times and countries, by national character, and the diversity in the intellectual habits of all reasoning men. Herder received from the duke of Weimar an invitation to repair to his court, to be at the head of the clergy in his small but highly respectable dominions, and, what was worth more than all these honors, to be, in the walks of literature, the associate of Goethe, Wieland, and Schiller. This was a glorious triumph after his short disappointment in his earlier prospects. It was here in Weimar, that the last half of Herder's life was passed in quiet but uninterrupted activity. While he found much leisure for disseminating his own views of what is worthy of admiration or imitation, he filled a large space of active duty. Besides his labors as a preacher, and as the head of the church, he was diligently watchful over schools, and unwearied in his efforts to improve them. A volume of his works contains a collection of essays, and addresses, on subjects connected with education. It is not necessary to say, that be at all times insists on a liberal treatment of boys, and believes in the possibility of instilling into young minds a love of virtue and knowledge, a love, which fear could only check, and personal emulation corrupt. He died in 1803, in the sixtieth year of his age.
Herder's reputation as a writer rests principally upon his works in prose. His mind, we have said, was of a poetic character, yet not inventive, and his sensibility to the beautiful and his lively and busy fancy never conducted him to high original efforts in verse. In his writings in prose everything is expressed with warmth and life. His thoughts are communicated under the most various forms and images; and his style would seem gorgeous, were it not at once clear and natural. There is in it a profusion of figures, but not a display of them; he makes use of them, because it was the most natural way for him to express his thoughts. They arose under such forms in his own mind, and he communicates them, as they existed within him. But for this he could be accused of an excess of ornament; but with him comparisons and the figures of rhetoric are not the efforts of art, but natural modes of expression, and he at all times pours them forth abundantly and in an interesting manner, yet not always with elegance, or taste. Few of his works can be recommended as finished performances, or of universal interest. His philosophical reflections on the history of man are written in a solemn and contemplative mood, and exhibit, perhaps, most fairly his private character not less than his merits as a writer. The influence of Herder on his age was wide, and entirely beneficial to the best interests of our race; he has been extensively read and admired, and always with results beneficial to morals and sentiments of philanthropy. A place cannot be assigned him among the great lights of the world; but he bore a high rank among his contemporaries, and was a blessing and an honor to his age.
We return from these general criticisms, to say a few words on a work, which Herder designed, and to a certain extent was enabled to execute. In 1778 and 1779 he undertook to collect, and faithfully transfer to his own language the most beautiful and most popular songs of all nations, and thus by comparing the national feelings of different ages and races to exhibit distinctly the common features of human nature. The noblest bards were to be assembled, and each to express the spirit of the people to which he belonged, so that from the most various national tones, the harmony of all with one common nature might be apparent. It was a noble idea, thus to assemble the representatives of popular feeling from all parts of the world and all periods of history, that they might unite in bearing testimony to humanity, the affections, and moral rectitude.
Among the poems thus selected there are many of exquisite beauty and intrinsic value; but for the most part they are curious, as specimens of the literature of the respective nations, to which their authors belonged. We should be glad to enter into a comparison of the several poems, were not the subject so extensive a one. Instead, therefore, of undertaking anything so arduous, we will only ask leave, before parting - from our readers, to quote one or two songs, which, perhaps, have hardly merit enough to amuse a few moments of their leisure. They are by authors of different countries, neither of whom has ever before been mentioned in our pages.
The first is from Rist, a man of some consideration in his time. He lived from 1607 to 1667, wrote many hymns, and knew how to express commonplace thoughts in correct language. His works are now quite forgotten. Yet Herder thought one of his songs worth preserving. It follows.
TO A FLOWER.
That thou bloomest in colors the fairest,
Rose hath no wish to conceal.
Nothing to Rose, to whom hearts belong.
What makes heaven of earthly hours,
What hath friendliness' winning art,
Rose a faultless maid.
These verses are translated in the rhythm of the original, and with the exception of two or three lines are literally rendered. The following little Anacreontic song is by Meli, a Sicilian professor of chemistry. We find his works collected and published in five volumes at Palermo, 1785. Meli is, we believe, universally regarded as the bappiest of the Sicilian poets. Several of his pieces are charming. The one, which we cite, is on the lip of his mistress.
A SICILIAN SONG.
Tell me, whither art thou going,
Where so early, little bee ?
On the hills so near to thee.
Still the dews of night are sparkling
Everywhere along the wold;
Thy wee wings, so fine with gold.
See, the languid flowers are sleeping,
Pillow mid the leaves their heads,
upon their downy beds.
But still onwards thou art flying,
Onwards still, and far away ;
Little bee, thus ere the day?
Is 't for honey? Why this fleetness ?
Shut thy wings, and haste no more,
Rests in unexhausted store.
On the lip of her, the fairest,
On my lovely maiden's lip,
Thither come and freely sip. This song is found in the first volume of Meli's poetic works. Another entitled Li Capiddi, in the same volume, is exceedingly lively, and a favourite with the Italians.
Art. VI.-Mémoires pour servir à la Vie du Général La
fayette et à l'Histoire de l'Assemblée constituante, rédigés par
M. REGNAULT-WARIN. A Paris 1824. 2 vols. 8vo. Memoirs of the Life of Gilbert Motier Lafayette. By Gen.
H. L. VILLAUME DUCOUDRAY HOLSTEIN, who contributed, under the fictitious Name of Peter Feldmann, to his Liberation from the Prisons of Olmütz. Translated from the French Manuscript. New York. 1824. 12mo.
Among the many publications which have recently appeared concerning General Lafayette, both in Europe and in this country, we have selected those by M. Regnault-Warin and General Ducoudray Holstein, as the most prominent. We are sorry, however, to find that both of them are very deficient and imperfect; unworthy of the subject to which they are devoted, and unable to give any becoming impression of the times in which Lafayette lived and has borne so important a part.
The work of M. Regnault-Warin is a clumsy, ill digested book, which forms one of a cumbrous series of similar publications, now coming from the press in France, and devoted to the French Revolution. It is called Memoirs of Lafayette'; but is in fact anything rather than a Biography. It is filled principally with political discussions written in a bad style, and with a tendency, which it is not always easy to understand ;