Page images

of retired life, give to the pursuit of knowledge, the ardent love which the world could not satisfy.

In making an estimate of the literary character of a great nation, it is therefore but of little weight, that superficial observers find in reality sufficient justification for filling the newspapers with accounts of the uncouth manners, or the humble station of men, whose names are repeated throughout the lettered world with reverence. If a few striking points of character are thus related—if some interesting biographical circumstances are set forth in broad relief, it may innocently serve to excite wonder, and perhaps to gratify an imperfect curiosity; but it does not come near the great question of the character of the intellectual existence of a nation.

Nor is it a question of the slightest moment, whether men of letters circulate freely among those of political or hereditary rank. Who asks if Homer kept company with kings? Who is distressed because Milton would not or could not go to court? An ingenious scholar of the North, whose merits are above our praise, observes, as a favourable characteristic of our country, that authors now constitute the chosen ornaments of society, and are welcomed to the gay circles of fashion and the palaces of princes.” It may be well for the classes which are privileged by birth or fortune, to associate to themselves the men whose eloquence can sway public opinion, or whose science can produce new resources of power or wealth ; it may promote the rational happiness of princes, to have at their tables, and in their saloons, men capable of enlightening ignorance, and promoting pleasures of an exalted kind. But how is the man of letters benefited? The well-fed parasite is infinitely beneath the stern, independent man, whose mind, self-balanced, reposes on the consciousness of its internal strength. Men of letters belong essentially to the labouring class; they are links in the chain which binds together the great and widely diversified elements of society. They rise from the general mass and belong to it. All the comforts of high life, all the fascinations of fashionable society, all the charms of good living, all the delight of vanity in counting the powerful and the wealthy as friends, should never induce them to resign their just claim to equal competition on the field of general exertion-founded as their claim is, in the glory of transmitting the lights of intelligence from one generation to another, and inspiring the thoughts, and moulding the moral existence of contemporary millions.

Are not these views in point, in returning to the discussion of German literature? They would be still more so, if we were to extend our views beyond the limits of the works of imagination. The judgments which have been pronounced on the class of professed men of learning, have often been singularly defici

ent in tolerance and moderation. The transient observer stumbles against some awkward corners, and, never lifting up his eyes to see the whole beauty and fair proportions of the structure, bears away nothing but the knowledge of some casual and unimportant defects. It cannot be too frequently repeated or urged on the attention of the public, that, at the German universities, the great problem of allowing free competition in public instruction is most successfully solved; honour and compensation are proportioned to talents and industry; an unlimited career, both of exertion and of emolument, is opened to the learned; and the motives of universal agency, in every branch of public industry, are brought to apply to the concerns of science and the diffusion of knowledge. And those concerns, almost more than any other, have advanced in that country, because they have been established on a liberal and natural basis.

Censures almost equally severe, are not unfrequently lavished on individuals. In estimating the value of a literary work, the personal manners of its author should not influence the decision. A good idea is not worth the less, because it comes from an enthusiast, who does not view the world with the clear eye of prudence. The cultivated nations have hardly yet ceased from their regrets at the death of the venerable Pestalozzi, the German Swiss, who has gone down to the tomb, in the fulness of years and the maturity of fame. Is it any satisfaction to know that he had weaknesses of character, which were practically of essential injury? That his presence was mean? That his language, or rather his pronunciation, was not elegant nor even correct? That in his fortunes he was repeatedly on the verge of bankruptcy? That his benevolence of heart was supported by no energy of will? That to an angelic simplicity of disposition, he added the infirmity of a child, in his dealings with 'men? And yet the name of Pestalozzi is safely enshrined among the benefactors of humanity, and his character, with all its failings, sealed with the stamp of elevated philanthropy. And why? His mind presented to itself a simple truth, pregnant with consequences for the world; and through a long life, in good and ill report, in competence and poverty, in age as in manhood, he was busy in exemplifying and illustrating that truth, and applying the results of his wise speculations to the benefit of the world. We name a planet after a German, who began his career as a musician in a Hanoverian regiment. He possessed that siogleness of heart, which can consecrate a life to a great design. Too poor to buy a telescope, he had ingenuity enough to make one; and Providence, as if to laugh to scorn the vain distinctions of scientific corporations, left it to this child of nature to make the most striking discovery, that has distinguished the observations of the last century. And yet we are not to regarı! this result, as something monstrous and unnatural; it was the proper result of a strong propensity, deeply rooted, carefully nourished, and finally freely indulged.

Perhaps it may be thought that fame or wealth are the leading passions, which have impelled men to this earnest and undivided application. Certainly the love of fame is a passion that becomes a generous nature; for who would not wish to stand well with his kind ? And we are disposed to do all justice to the very respectable passion of avarice. Yet, having alluded to Herschel, we are reminded of his great precursor, Copernicus, one, whose name is familiar to almost every man, woman, and child, that can read and write, and that knows the world turns round; a man whose fame has been but the more firmly established by every successive improvement in astronomical science, and whose immortality is secured and diffused, not by the labours of the erudite only, but by every manual of astronomy that is addressed to a child's capacity. Now, this man very deliberately spent the greatest part of a life of more than seventy years, in establishing a theory which bears his name; and having thus in his power a kind of knowledge, which it belongs to every man to learn, and which could not but secure to him a universality of fame, beyond any thing which a poet can compass, he yet communed with himself on his great discoveries, till the close of his life, and never saw them published, till on the very day of his death.

Shall we have another example, to see if wealth and the prospect of it, are the reward or the excitement to intellectual efforts? In the same department of knowledge, the industry and labours of Kepler were unwearied. While others have gained glory by discovering isolated doctrines, Kepler invented science. He had taste and genius for poetry, but gave his enthusiasm to his exact pursuits. In the service of the German emperor, he yet Jived on the narrowest means; and, after all his success and all his labours, left to his family but twenty-two rix dollars, and an old horse, worth a few florins. But was Kepler therefore unhappy? His correspondence breathes the spirit of cheerfulness, and he tells the story of his own penury without complaints. Kepler was the precursor of Newton; the Englishman lived to be more than eighty; Kepler died while not yet sixty. We do not contrast their respective merits; it would be presumption in us to do so; but when it is done, the miserable external existence of Kepler should not be left out of mind. Newton was worshipped in his lifetime as a super-human being. He was member of parliament; at one time even in the cabinet; was knighted; enjoyed all the benefits of fortune; and, dying, left an estate, as times then were, equal to what our wealthier merchants acquire. Kepler's body was given to the earth without honour; the remains of Newton were interred with pomp; dukes and lords being the pall-bearers. On his monument, he was at once called “the honour of the human race. .” In the last century, a proposal was made to erect a monument to Kepler by subscription, and the plan failed. “After all,” said Kästner, since Germany refused him bread, while he lived on earth, it matters little now that he has been immortal for more than a century and a half, whether it gives him a stone." “ His monument,” said another, “is in the moon.'

This devotedness is one of the highest qualities common to all noble natures. But we intend also to represent it, as more frequently illustrated in action among the Germans, than elsewhere in Europe. It is the same spirit, operating under different forms, that supported the man, who, more than any other, is the fit representative of German character: the father of the reformation. When he periled his life without fear, besore the imperial diet, under the frown of the emperor himself, he could not swerve from his purpose, declaring for all defence and all excuse, “I cannot act otherwise, that God knows."

It need not be added, that the exact sciences have continued to be successfully cultivated in the country which gave the first impulse to modern astronomy. The pursuits of Euler continued his cheerfulness, even in the last seventeen years of his life, though the light of heaven shone on him in vain, and his eyes were closed on the splendours of the firmament, through which he had loved to trace the wanderings of the planets. Kästner lived to a good old age, and enjoyed a high reputation as a writer of epigrams, not less than as a mathematician. Olbers, of Bremen, the successful observer, (a friend of our country, and one who loved on all occasions to learn and to repeat, whatever was to the honour of America,) not less than Zach, amidst all the changes of his residence, was faithful to the science, to which he gave unremittingly the labours of his best years. But the greatest of living mathematicians in Germany is Gauss. He is the very model in his department. Nothing, that he has attempted, is slovenly or unfinished. He is in mathematics, what Schiller was in poetry, always finishing every thing he writes with the most scrupulous exactness and elegance, not so much to delight others, as to satisfy himself. He has written but little; but the highest perfection belongs to all that he has published. There is not even a dissertation or an occasional essay of his, which is not a finished performance in its kind. Those who are best competent to judge, consider him as the honourable rival of La Place. In variety of powers, the French astronomer has doubtless the ascendancy; in devotedness he is surpassed by the Hanoverian. La Place had the vanity to be a peer; one may see his portrait in Paris, a fine picture, in which he is represented in the robes of the privileged order. But who feels an interest in the Marquis de La Place? For VOL. IV.-10. 7.


the farmer's son, who expounded the system of the world, and treated of celestial mechanics, who advanced the limits of mathematics, and discovered new applications of the doctrine of the calculus, who reconciled the apparent irregularities in the motions of the heavenly bodies, with the influence of acknowledged laws, and deduced directly from the principle of gravity, the results which had been gathered from the observation of many centuries—for him, one of the greatest mathematicians of all times, we have the most profound respect. But La Place, the unskilful minister of the interior, the chancellor of Napoleon's senate, the member of the upper house of the Bourbons, was after all but an inferior man. The German lives exclusively in his science; it is his honour, his employment, his solace, and the sole and sure foundation of durable fame.

May we not then inser, that this power of consecrating a life with undivided zeal to one great object, is a quality so frequently found in Germany, as to be characteristic? In the department of natural history, this quality leads to wonderful accuracy and minuteness of knowledge. Accordingly, the several branches of that interesting portion of science are cultivated by men who spare no pains to be thorough and exact. We might refer to the cabinet of natural science in Berlin, as perhaps the best arranged of any in the world. Not to enumerate many names, we yet must express veneration for the patriarch Blumenbach, a man who surpasses in science all competitors, in that enlargement of mind which distinguishes generous natures. For more than fifty years, he has regularly taught the great branches of natural history and physiology to crowded andiences. The spirit that breathes in all that he utters, is one to awaken interest, and to enkindle the ardour of curiosity. With a mind versed in all that can interest a philosopher, he strays into other departments of science only to illustrate his own.

His pupils cherish towards him mingle sentiments of respect and love ; and long after the grave shall have closed on him, they will continue to remember the hours that were passed in his lecture room, as among the most profitable and the most agreeable of their lives. Is it asked by what secret charm he has thus so long gathered around him, from all parts of the world, a throng of curious youth, whose affection lie has governed, and whose zeal he has called into action ? It is genius, united with singleness of purpose, and cheerful benevolence. No envy ever induced him

to detract from foreign merit ; no prejudices restrained him in his pursuits of truth ; no contracted disposition kept him from adopting the improvements of others. At ease in his own mind, he observed all earnest efforts with delight, and was always fond of benefiting himself by deriving information from every possible source ; and while his powers are of a nature

« PreviousContinue »