NIEBITHE'S LIFE AND LETTERS.* Tim life learning, and character of Niebuhr, were more extraer_ dinary than would be inferred from hi History of Rome, extraor. dinary as that work undoubtedly is. In his very childhood he was remarkable for his aptitude for receiving instruction and for precocity or originality of mind, both stimulated by the favourable circumstances in which he was placed. He learned Danish as his mother and German as his household tongue. He began the ele- ments of education in his fourth or fifth year ; his father taught him French, English, Latin, and Greek, or it might be more ac- curately said that he put him in the way of teaching himself. By the time he was eight years old the future historian could read any English book without help; at the age of thirty he was ao- quainted more or less with twenty languages. So great a travel- ler as his father naturally taught his children geography ; they learned the use of medals, and to make casts from them, as a re- creation on Sunday afternoons; the building of a new house by the father introduced the son, then quite a boy, to plan-making, which was extended to the art of fortification. A great aptitude for acquiring was only one part of young Niebuhr's character' and by no means the most remarkable. Whether he had at anytime the faculty of creative genius may perhaps be doubted; but he had the genius of combination in a high degree, as well as that inven- tive faculty which many children possess but which the precocity of the future historian exercised on loftier themes than those of children in general.
"During the periods of his confinement to the house, before he was old enough to have any paper given him, he covered with his writings and draw- ings the margins of the leaves of several copies of Forskaal's works, which were used in the house as waste paper. Then he made oopy-boolcs for him- self, in which he wrote essays, mostly on political subjects. He had an ima- ginary empire called Low England, of which he drew maps ; and he promul- gated law, waged wars, and made treaties of peace there. His father was pleased that he should occupy himself with amusements of this kind, and lois sister took an active part in them. There still exist among his papers -many of his childish productions ; among others, translations and interpretations of passages of the New Testament, poetical paraphrases from the classics, sketches of little poems, a translation of Poncet's Travels in Ethiopia, an historical and geographical description of Africa, written in 1787, [in his eleventh year] (the two last were undertaken as presents to his father on his birthday,) and many other things mostly written during these years. His father probably in one way indirectly assisted these imaginative tendencies by his habit of relating his travels to him."
Niebuhr the younger was born in 1776: he was consequently only in his early teens at the breaking out of the French Revela- tion. But it immediately attracted his attention, and served to display his historical and geographical acquirements, as well as his instinctive sagacity and his power of logical combination. Nay, if imperfect memory and the mature fame of the historian have not contributed to exaggerate the actual, he displayed when a boy of eleven a precocity of intellectual power akin to the clairvoyance of the mesmerists.
"It is said that when the war with Turkey broke out in the year 1787, it so strongly excited the child's mind, that he not only talked of it m his sleep at night, but fancied himself in his dreams reading the newspapers and re- peating the intelligence they contained about the war ; and his ideas on these subjects were so well arranged, and founded on so aeourate a knowledge of the country and the situation of the towns, that the realization of his nightly anticipations generally appeared in the journals a short time afterwards. Of course this is not to be regarded as indicating a miraculous gift of prophecy in the boy, but only as showing with what distinctness all that he heard transferred itself to his imagination, and how capable his understanding was of combining the ideas he had received in their true relation to each other. Partly through his father's narratives, partly through his own geographical studies, those regions were as familiar to him as his native province. He had studied the nations inhabiting them, and their mode of warfare, in his- tory and the accounts of travellers, and had taken great pains to gam accu- rate conceptions of the character and conduct of the various commanders in the war, from the journals and other sources of information. There are still extant some letters which he wrote at this time to his uncle Eckhardt, con- taining the grounds and proofs of his predictions.
"This faculty of divination exhibited itself again during the early part of the French Revolution; when in several instances he not only anticipated the course of events with reference to the progress of the war, but also the direction which popular movements would take, the plans and objects of the revolutionary leaders, and the results of the measures adopted by the various parties, with so much correctness and precision as to excite the astonishment even of the eminent statesman Count P. A. Bernstorff, that such a mere youth should have so just and acute an appreciation of men and events. With equal correctness and certainty did he guess the plans of the command- ers during the war from the marches and position of the armies ; in which his exact and detailed geographical knowledge served as a guide to his judg- ment. He retained this faculty to a considerable extent during the whole of his life, but he possessed it in a higher degree in his earlier years, when he could concentrate the whole power of his mind on impressions of this kind."
The favourable opportunities and remarkable powers of ye Niebuhr were assisted by a memory so wonderful that he CO dispense with the aid of reference in researches and by an in- dustry which was less a labour than a love ; although his health was not good ; he was subject to fits of lassitude after long-con- tinued exertion and he used sometimes to complain of his own laziness,—by Which he appears to mean, the want of active exer- tion, or not doing with his might. His sensibility was great; partly, his biographer seems to think, the result of illnesses in childhood, which might have affected his nervous system : his temper was genial, and his feeling ardent, with much of old German simplicity. There was an openness about him which English reserve can hardly appreciate, as The Life and Letters of Berthold George Niebuhr. With Essays on his Charac- ter and Influence, by the Chevalier Bunsen, and Professors Brendle and Loebell. two volumes. Published by Chapman and Ball. Niebuhr in his turn complained of the reserve of the English. In absence, this genial nature poured itself out upon paper ; and his correspondence, from the time of his quitting home in his eight- eenth year for the 'University of Kiel, till his death, was very ex- tensive. In writing to his friends, his mind was fertile, his style fluent and clear, his manner earnest, and, when the topics admitted it, his thoughts powerful, his judgments for the most just, and always so from his own point of view. In all this they offer a contrast to his history, which was crabbed in style and somewhat hazy in meaning, or which at least does not distinctly impress its own meaning upon the reader's mind. As it cannot be that Niebuhr had not thoroughly mastered his subject and so had only general ideas, it must be ascribed to his habit of expressing his thoughts in the readiest words. He did not wait for the "moment of inspiration" to impart animation"; he did not pause to elucidate his thoughts, or revise and retouch his style till it presented the idea in its comprehension and clearness. His bio- grapher traces "a want of energy and strength of will" to his various and desultory reading in youth before he went to the University. The strictness of a scholastic discipline might have confined his attention to fewer branches of learning, and possibly given him a more complete knowledge of them. It may be doubted whether that unwearied and repeated attention which successful labor links involves' is not, in some degree, a gift of na- ture, and cannot be acquired to any useful purpose. There are many who cannot finish.
Like most youths of mental activity and ambition, Niebuhr en- tertained many projects which life would have failed him to exe- cute had its span been doubled or trebled. It is curious to see how continually historical subjects were uppermost. He had not been a month at Kiel before the original settlement of Europe and America, with a key to the diversity of languages in the New World, occupied his attention. Two months later—Au- gust 1794—in a letter to his parents containing an account of his various plans of study, he writes, "But history is my vocation, and to that I shall perhaps some day make my philosophical ac- quisitions subservient." Another three months, and he says, "And yet history grows dearer and dearer to me ; so much so, that my ardour in history interferes with my zeal for philosophy, while no philosophy can blunt my inclination to history." While nomi- nally occupied at Copenhagen in 1797, as a public librarian, but
also assisting the Minister Copenhagen, he thus chalks out a course of reading and a mode of life.
"In order fully to understand and to give lectures upon ancient literature and ancient history, which forms a part of it, it is, in my opinion, absolutely necessary that I should have read through all the ancient writings still ex- tant, at least once, with the closest attention—the more important works many times—and acquired a living and familiar acquaintance with each period. There may possibly be some exceptions to this rule in the case of special sciences, which must for ever remain a mystery to the uninitiated. This undertaking was carried out by Milton long ago. There would scarcely be found many to do it now ; but it seems to me that it is what I undoubt- edly ought to attempt. A profound and practical acquaintance with the grammar of the two (gassiest languages must be obtained, partly by means of the various trea- tises on that subject, and partly from the literature of the languages them- selves. A systematic philosophy, as the groundwork of all settled convictions i and all accurate thought—what s perhaps still more important, method in thinking, writing, and studying—added to these, various exercises in the art of composition and a thorough command of our mother tongue—are indis- pensable requisites for any one who steps forth before the public and seeks to obtain a high standing. It is no more than a man demands of himself. "These, then, are the preliminary tasks that I should have to execute be- fore I could accept a professorship in Kiel without a blush, and discharge its duties without disgracing or overworking myself. • "I have, perhaps, already reminded you of Hume's example, who, in order to bring his mind, which had got into confusion in consequence of an ill-regulated education, into the right track again, and to strengthen his powers by peaceable seclusion, lived unknown for several years in La Fleche, and then came back another man from what he was when he left home. Now, it is true it would be presumptuous to institute a comparison which would allow me to hope for such results as proceeded from Hume's talents; and besides, he and I should have different requirements and ideals of happi- ness; but an analogy may nevertheless subsist.".
By 1803, notwithstanding the demands of public business, he had reached the road that was to immortalize his course. He says —" I am at work on a treatise : as I told you before in few words, the subject is the nature of the Roman public domains, their dis- tribution, colonization, agrarian laws, &c. It is an interesting question, and I think I have taken a more accurate view of it than has been reached before. I used to busy myself with such questions when I was still at Kiel." It was not till 1810, when he 'withdrew from official business on what may be termed the sub- jugation of Prussia by Napoleon, and was appointed a professor at Berlin, that Niebuhr promulgated his views on Roman history, in
course of lectures ; but he seems to have discovered the clue to the labyrinth six years before. In a letter to Count Adam Moltke, of May 1804, he writes—
"'While you were preparing to tread the classic soil, and when you arrived in Italy, I was living in a work that afforded me hours of the most intense enjoyment. I was straining every power of my mind in investigating the Roman history from its first beginning to the times of the tyranny, in all the remains of ancient authors that I could procure. This work gave me a deep and living insight into Roman antiquity, such as I never had before; Lid such as made me perceive, at the same time, clearly and vividly, that the representations of all the moderns, without exception, are but mistaken, imperfect glimpses of the truth. My studies were interrupted by a journey on official affairs to Hamburg, Leipsic, and Frankfort ; a journey which did Dot on the whole bring me much pleasure, because I felt it my duty to em- ploy ray whole mind on the financial matters placed in my hands; and it was necessary to associate exclusively with those who could be useful to me in this respect On my return home, I resumed my investigations with re- doubled energy, and for the first time felt strongly the consciousness that I could produce something worthy of study, of fame, and of immortality, and the desire to undertake such a work."
Niebuhes biography is not only interesting, for his intellectual qualities, his various studies, and what he accomplished ; he lived a life of variety and of action at times of adventure. In his father's estimation, Unveiling was one of the greatest pleasures, and a traveller one of the most distinguished of his race. Parental tenderness, however, hesitated to trust young Niebuhr among " The anti-es vast, and deserts idle, Rough quarries, rocks, and hills whose heads touch heaven"
where he had achieved his own fame. He designed his son for official life ; which in Germany and Denmark is more of a special vocation than it is in Britain. In addition to his studies at Kiel with a reference to public business, and to some practical experi- ence in affairs as private secretary to Schimmelman the Danish Minister, young Niebuhr went to England in 1798, and remained till 1799, attending lectures at Edinburgh under Playfair and other distinguished professors, besides more or less studying our constitution, finance, system of agriculture in Scotland, and the national character. He came to England with an extensive knowledge of its literature and language ; in after years he oon- sidered that he spoke English more fluently than any other foreign tongue. lie was therefore well placed for profiting by his resi- dence: his letters to his betrothed, descriptive of the country, its modes of locomotion, the manners and characteristics of the people more than half a century ago, are full of a home interest. On his return to Copenhagen, he discharged several public offices under Schimmelman's patronage, connected with trade and finance, with- out, as we have seen, intermitting his studies. Having married soon after his return, he was with his wife in Copenhagen during the time of Nelson's attack : he wrote daily accounts of the pro- ceedings to a correspondent—land very interesting Recounts they are. Some umbrage connected with promotion induced him in 1806 to quit the Danish for the Prussian service. He arrived at Berlin nine days before the battle of Jena : his first employment was to carry off the treasure of his department, retreating from place to place till he reached Memel, at the close of the year, or in January 1807. He unwillingly continued in employ, at the request of the King, through the ensuing period of gloomy disgrace and disasters till 1810. A professorship then gave him the opportunity to deliver to the world his views on Roman history ; and the first edition of his great work was composed and published in 1810, 1811, 1812. On the return of peace he was appointed Prussian Ambassador at Rome, to negotiate a concordat ; and remained in that mission for four years without instructions upon the subject. When the con- cordat was finally concluded, Prince Hardenberg arrived at Rome professedly to terminate the business and take the credit of doing in a few days what the historian had been trying to do for years. In 1823 he resigned his embassy, took a provisional salary, and de- termined to finish his History of Rome. In 182A he became a professor at Bonn ; 'where he delivered numerous lectures on clas- sical antiquity and Greek and Roman history, and where he re- sided till his death, at the beginning of January 1831. The wife mentioned in the following extract was a second vrife 4 by whom alone he had children.
"The last political occurrence in which Niebuhr-was strongly interested, was the trial of the Ministers of Charles the Tenth : it was indirectly the cause of his death. He read the reports in the French journals with eager attention ; and as these newspapers were much in request at that time, from the universal interest felt in their contents, he did not in general go to the public reading-rooms where he was accustomed to see the papers daily, until the evening. On Christmas Eve and the following day, he was in better health and spirits than he had been for a long while ; but on the even- ing of the 25th of December he spent a considerable time waiting and read- ing in the hot newsroom, without taking off his thick fur cloak, and theereturned home through the bitter frosty night-air heated in mind and body.
Still full of the impression made on him by the papers, he went straight to Classen's room, and exclaimed, That is true eloquence ! You must read Sauzet's speech ; he alone declares the true state ef the case—that this is no question of law, but an open battle between hostile powers ! &meet must
be no common man ! But,' he added immediately, have taken a severe chill ; I must go to bed.' And from the couch which he then sought he never rose again, except for one hour two days afterwards, when he was forced to return to it quickly, with warning symptoms of his approaching end. "His illness lasted a week, and was pronounced, on the fourth day, to be a decided attack of inflammation on the lungs. His hopes sank at first, lint rose with his increasing danger and weakness ; even on the morning a the last day he said, I may still recover.' Two days before, his faithful wife, who had exerted herself beyond her strength in nursing him, fell ill, and was obliged to leave him. He then turned his face to the wall, and ex- claimed with the most painful presentiment, Hapless house ! to lose father and mother at once!' And to the children he said, Pray to God, children ! He alone can help us!' And his attendants saw that he himself was seeking comfort and strength in silent prayer. But when his hopes of life revived, his active and powerful mind soon demanded its wonted occupa- tion. The studies that had been dearest to him through life remained so us death ; his love to them was proved to be vire tmd genuine by its unwaver- ing perseverance to the last. While he was on his sick bed, Classen read aloud to him for hours the Greek' text of the Jewish History of Jo- sephus; and he followed the sense with such ease and attention, that he suggested several emendations in the text at the moment : this may be called an unimportant circumstance, but it always appeared to us one of the most wonderful proofs of his merits] powers. The last learned work in which he was able to testify his interest, MO the description of Rome by Bunsen and his friends, which had just been sent to him : the pre- face to the first volume was read aloud to him, and called forth expressions of pleasure and approbation. He also asked for light reading to pass the time; but our attempts to satisfy him were unsuccessful. A friend proposed the "Briefe eines Verstorbenen,' which was then making a great sensation: but he declined it, saying he feared that its levity would jar upon his feel- ings. One of Cooper's novels was recommended to him, and excited his ri- dicule by its extiaordnaary verbiage : he was much amused by trying an ex- periment he proposed, which consisted in taking one period at haphazard on each page, and by the discovery that this mode of reading did little violence to the connexion of the story. TheColnis' he &hung was read aloud to 'din up to the last day, with extracts from the French and other journals. Neaaked for them expressly, only twelve hour' before his death, and gave his opinion half in jest about the change of Ministry in Paris. But on the .afternoon of the 1st of January 1831, he sank into a dreamy slumber, once .on awakening, he said that pleasant images floated before him in Bleep: now and then he spoke French in his dreams ; probably he felt himself in the presence of his departed friend De Serre. As the night gathered, conscious- ness gradually faded away; he woke up once more about midnight, when he last remedy was administered ; he recognized in it a medicine of doubtful operation, never resorted to but in extreme cases, and said, in a faint voice, What essential substance is this ? Am I so far gone?' These were his last words ; he sank back on his pillow, and within an hour his noble heart ceased to beat.
"Niebuhes wife died nine days after him, on the 11th of the same month, about the same hour of the night. She died, in fact, of a broken heart, though her disease was, like his, an inflammation of the chest. She could shed no tears, though she longed for them, and prayed God to send them : once her eyes grew moist, when his picture was brought to her at her own request, but they dried again, and her heavy heart was not relieved. She bad her children often with her, particularly her son, and gave them her parting counsels. And so her loving and pure soul went home to God. Both rest in one grave ; over which the present King of Prussia has erected a mo- nument to the memory of his former instructor and counsellor. The chil- dren were placed under the care of Madame Hensler, at Kiel." Niebuhr died not old, for he was only fifty-five ; but, in the common phrase, though with a very different meaning, he had lived all the days of his life. The boy whose mind at ten is occu- pied with the subjects appropriate to the man of thirty, and who allows himself no after repose, will have the years struck off from the other end of the scale. In the very prime of life Niebuhr spoke of himself as old.
The letters of Niebuhr form as prominent a feature of these vo- lumes as his biography, but by a Judicious arrangement they are made to convey a sufficient account of his life. The work is divi- ded into epochs—his residence at Kiel, in England, and so forth. A biographical account is given of each of these periods, and a selec- tion made from his correspondence within those dates. The reader has thus a general idea of the biographical events, which is expand- ed with details, feelings, and remarks, by Niebuhr himself. Con- sidered strictly as a life, as an account of events, or as a display of character, the letters may be rather overdone ; but this, strange to say, is felt most, at least to English readers, in what is really the more biographical parts. When Niebuhr was in England he remarked upon the national reserve ; by which he meant the con- trol over the display of feeling and the expression of a kind of sen- timent whose extremes may be read in the Sorrows of Werter and the parodies of Canning. Though the historian's mode of estimating things and expressing emotions is widely different from the hero of GOthe, still too much is made of feelings and small matters for a distant and foreign public—it is daily, life too folly detailed. The remarks on public men and events, the criticism on national characteristics,. though less biographical, are more inter- esting. They carry the reader back to a period among the most interesting in the whole range of history ; they present him with the observations of an actor or a close spectator on public affairs, and contain the judgment of a mind Which, if opinionated and some- what -inclined to the abstract, was penetrating and sagacious. Latterly, indeed, he fell into a desponding or depreciatory mode of regarding the world ; but his judgment, though gloomy, was in the main true. This passage, written less than two months before his death, is almost prophecy.
"It is my firm conviction that we, particularly in Germany, are rapidly hastening towards barbarism; and it is not much better in France.
"That we are threatened with devastation, such as that two hundred years ago, is, I am sorry to say, just as clear to me ; and the end of the tale will be, despotism enthroned amidst universal ruin. In fifty years, and probably much less, there will be no trace left of free institutions, or the freedom of the press, throughout all Europe, at least on the Continent. 'Very few of the things which have happened since the revolution in Paris have surprised me."
This disposition to despondency accompanied him through life ; the result, to some extent, of temperament, and of the lassitude that followed his long-continued mental efforts. He was as gloomy in his prediction in 1806, with more palpable grounds, though that prophecy was not realized. " Wo to those who greeted the victories of the French Revolutionary army with acclamations; who extinguished in our unhappy nation the last sparks of national love and national hatred, that the imperious French might scat- ter abroad the scarce warm embers with their sword! I have ever hated the French as a state, and regarded the humiliation of Germany with the same feelings that breathe through your odes. It is over; and I shall now in- veigh, like the prophet Jeremiah, against those who dream of resistance, un- less a case were to arise in which, like the Saguntines and Antigone, we must rather choose death. For is not death, when freely chosen and pre- pared for, the most solemn and beautiful thing to which life can aspire ? Eared could hesitate to prefer it to shameful servitude, even if he only re- garded his own mental enjoyment ? Meanwhile, it has not yet come to this with us in the North. Happy are we who have no children! For perhaps it might be well for whole nations to die out with this generation. With two gifts has England's genius blessed Lord Nelson and rewarded him for his deeds : that he died victorious, and therefore still full of hope, before he could know the defeat of mm; and secondly, that he left no children to grovel under the oppression of those whom he had so often made to pass under his yoke. We shall soon see how the French will govern the world."