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ART. III.-1. The History of Rome from the First Punic War
to the Death of Constantine. By B, G. NIEBUHR. In a Series of Lectures, including an Introductory Course on the Sources and Study of Roman History. Edited by LEONHARD
SCHMITZ, Ph. D. 2 vols. 8vo, London, 1844. 2. Vorträge über Römische Geschichte, an der Universität zu
Bonn gehalten. Von B. G. NIEBUHR. 3 vols. 8vo. Berlin,
1846. 3. Lectures on the History of Rome, from the earliest Times to the Commencement of the First Punic War. By B. G. NIE
Edited by Dr. M. ISLER. Translated, with many additions, from MSS., by Dr. LEONHARD SCHMITZ, F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh. 8vo.
London, 1848. 4. B. G. Niebuhr's Lectures on Roman History, delivered at the
University of Bonn. From the Edition of Dr. M. ISLER. Translated by HAVILLAND LE M. CHEPMELL, M.A., and FRANZ C. F. DEMMLER, Ph. D, Vol. I., 8vo. London, Edinburgh, and Dublin, 1849.
BARTHOLD GEORGE NIEBUHR has an undoubted claim to be considered the founder of a new dynasty of Roman historians. How was he peculiarly qualified to attain this high distinction ? And has he any title to be considered the founder of a truthful dynasty ?
We shall confine ourselves in this Article to an answer to the first question, and this will require us to glance, very hastily and rapidly, at the leading events of his life, till he became publicly known as an historian.
His noble-hearted and simple-minded father, Carsten Niebuhr, by birth a German, had by his integrity, and the energy of an indomitable will, risen in the service of Denmark from the education of a peasant to be numbered among the most famous of Eastern travellers. In the year 1778, with his wife, who also was of German extraction, an only daughter, then four years old, and Barthold his only son, then in his third year, Carsten Niebuhr left Copenhagen, where he had held nominal rank as an officer of engineers, for Meldorf, in the South Ditmarschen, where he was appointed district secretary. His native place was in Friesland, from which Meldorf was not far distant, and with which he was now enabled to hold more frequent intercourse. For sixteen years the young Niebuhr continued an almost uninterrupted residence in Meldorf. This is the principal town of a dreary, treeless, flat district, abounding in
marshes, which had an injurious effect both on his own constitution and that of his mother. Indeed, his German biographer* remarks, that this was not the only circumstance in which he resembled her. He was like her in personal appearance, save that he wanted her brown eyes—like her, he was passionate, impetuous, but withal affectionate and tenderhearted. If we add a deficiency in physical courage to his father's incorruptible honesty in all matters, literary or otherwise, and also to his father's obstinacy or dogmatism, we get a tolerably correct outline of his moral conformation. For many of his peculiarities we can easily account. Alone with an only sister-himself an only son-having little intercourse with boys of his own age—in a lonely country town—in feeble health—the cherished companion of a sickly mother, he could only have been saved from feebleness of character by his father's practical sense, and an intellect of uncommon vigour and promise, even in his earliest days. His home education—and that was all he had for many years-was such as might have been expected from the habits of his father. That father had made himself, and he held it as a maxim that it was a preposterous absurdity to teach unwilling pupils. In the teaching of languages he did not aim at grammatical indoctrination. He cared more that his son should take an interest in events than in the language in which they were narrated. The following circumstances, besides, contributed to develop in the boy the rare powers of imagination which his after-life unfolded. The traveller was wont to take upon
his knee his little boy, and narrate wonderful but true tales of the far
* The sources of Niebuhr's biography used in this brief notice are, 1. The work quoted above, (Lebensnachrichten über Barthold Georg Niebuhr,) being a History of his Life, in three volumes, containing a narrative interspersed at epochs with his letters. The materials were furnished principally by his intimate friends, Hensler, Brandis, Bauer, and the publisher Perthes. It was edited, we believe, by Madame Hensler, the daughter-in-law of his old friend Dr. Hensler of Kiel, sister of his first, and aunt of his second wife. It was published at Hamburgh, in 1838. A translation of it, by George Valentine Fox, M.A., New College, Oxford, was announced in Tait's Magazine, November 1844, and specimens—which were tolerably accurate representations of the original-given in that and several subsequent numbers. What has become of this work? The whole of the original is deeply interesting, and to the British student would be highly instructive. 2. Reminiscences of an Intercourse with George Barthold Niebuhr, the Historian of Rome. By Francis Lieber. London, 1835. Lieber was a Germán, who having fought in the wars of Grecian independence, in 1821, 1822, was obliged to return home, which he did by way of Italy. He reached Rome with difficulty, penniless, and in no becoming attire. Personally unknown to Niebuhr, who was then Prussian ambassador at Rome, he sought, and gained his protection and assistance. He obtained more. He was taken for a short time into Niebuhr's family as tutor, and these Reminiscences are mainly a record of certain opinions and dicta of Niebuhr, uttered while Lieber lived with him. There is, besides, an outline of his career principally as a statesman, in a serial publication, entitled Preussens Staatsmänner. Leipsic, 1842. His life is the fourth in the series.
His early Education.
lands of the east-of sultans, and caliphs, and the wild Arabs, to whom his heart clung in fond remembrance. Then, in his sixth year, Boie, brother-in-law of the poet Voss, himself a distinguished literary man, and as editor of the German Museum in communication with the literati both of the Continent and of England, and moreover possessed of a rich library, became domiciled at Meldorf, as provincial governor, and was soon on the most intimate terms with the traveller and his family. Through him and his library, young Niebuhr came into contact with the general world of literature.
The boy's aptitude for the acquirement of languages was marvellous. It was a matter of course that he spoke both Danish and German. His father had early conceived a strong desire to see him following in his footsteps as a traveller,—and that under the auspices of our own East India Company. Hence he taught his son English with much assiduity. French too was not neglected, nor Arabic; but he failed in the latter, probably as his son himself hints, * from his having lost that ready use of the vocables, essential to a man who disdained grammatical instruction. This language Niebuhr afterwards acquired at Copenhagen. At the age of six he commenced the study of Greek; at eight he mastered with ease any ordinary English book, and was in the habit of reading aloud to his father the English newspapers.f In his French studies, he was materially assisted by Boie's first wife, whose death in 1786, was his first grief. When it was thought proper for him to commence a more methodical course of study, the services of one of the teachers in the grammar school of the place were employed. But the teacher's attainments were a source not of profit but of amusement to his pupil, who tormented him beyond measure, by feigning ignorance, and betraying him into ludicrous blunders. So Niebuhr was again, for a time, left to his own efforts and the aid of his father.
He was roused to inquire into passing events by the Turkish war of 1788, which haunted his night and day dreams, and still more by the troubles in the Netherlands, that broke out under the Emperor Joseph. By this time Meldorf had acquired a certain degree of celebrity, and strangers came to visit the residence of the travelled Niebuhr, and the learned Boie, on whom the fame of his brother-in-law conferred additional distinction. Such visitors were struck with amazement when they found in a meagre boy of thirteen, not only a ready command of many languages, but a most copious fund of geographical, statistical,
* In a life of his father, from which Mrs. Austin drew her materials for the Traveller's Biography, published by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. See p. 23 of the latter work.
† Arnold's Life and Correspondence, vol. ii. p. 390.
and historical details. Notwithstanding all this, he was preserved both in his youth and in his riper years from vanity and pride, by his contempt of the superficial, his constant yearning after the real, the simple truthfulness of his nature, and his familiarity with the great intellects, both of his own and of ancient times. There is nothing like this for humbling the conceit which is wont to be engendered by a shallow scholarship.
But the boy must go to school; and so, at Easter 1789, when twelve and a-half years of age, he is found prepared to enter the highest department (prima, the Germans call it) of the grammar school, taught by Jäger, the rector, a scholar of considerable eminence. His school education here lasted only till August 1790, when Jäger thinking it absurd to keep back a boy of Niebuhr's talents and attainments, recommended that he should leave school, and under his private instructions—a rare privilege-prepare for the University. At this very time we have a symbol of a great portion of his after career, the union of active business with indefatigable study. His father writes to a friend, when referring to his functions as collector of the district duties,—“ Barthold has, in truth, been of valuable assistance to me in my duties as Collector.”
For four years Niebuhr's range of study must have been desultory enough. He was only one hour a day with Jäger, and the work which he had to do for him can have occupied only a small portion of his time. He complains bitterly of this in after years; but, in his case, as in that of many others who have made similar complaints, it may be doubted whether his wide range of reading, which would have been incompatible with a regular range of study, was not after all the best preparation for his after career-to say nothing of the restraints on severe and regular mental exercise, imposed by his feeble constitution in youth.
Various events broke in upon the monotony of his life from this period till he entered the University of Kiel, in 1794. About thirty-five years before, his father, then in pursuit of knowledge under difficulties, had commenced the study of mathematics at Hamburgh, under Büsch. This professor, in addition to his academical labours, now conducted in his own house a Commercial Academy, where the youths were trained in the modern languages, and in the departments of knowledge more directly bearing on mercantile and commercial pursuits. Niebuhr the elder had continued on terms of intimate friendship with Büsch, and was anxious, for many reasons, to place his son under his care. But the experiment did not succeed. The youthful scholar was unfitted by disposition, habit, and inclination for the rattling, gay life, and the rude, noisy jocularity of
At School, Hamburgh, and Kiel.
333 his confrères, and so after a three months' trial, he returned home, at the harvest of 1792. Another, and more stirring event, which had great influence on his future destinies, as well as the current of his thoughts, was the breaking out of the French Revolution. Whether it was from a precocious profundity of judgment, or derived from his father's contempt and hatred of the French, it is certain that the boy, so far from sharing in the enthusiasm with which so many of his seniors regarded the first glorious days of French freedom, foresaw and predicted the sea of blood in which that bright sun was to set. So alarmed was he by the progress of events, that a favourite project of his was to seek refuge from European troubles in America. It is interesting to notice how, in later years, his historical habits led him to look with distrust on a nation governed by merchants, and unadorned by associations with the mighty past.* So strong in him became the historic feeling.
His father's views for him were bent on some career different from that of a literary life, but unsettled otherwise. All thoughts of travel as a permanent pursuit were ultimately abandoned, from his own want of the necessary bodily vigour, and from his mother's infirm health. Diplomacy seemed a suitable occupation for him. And in the meantime, the father's fame and the son's promise were attracting notice elsewhere. Manuscripts, for collation, were sent to the young Niebuhr, from Copenhagen and Göttingen. Heyne was anxious to superintend his studies, but first it was resolved that he should spend two years in the Danish University of Kiel.
Here (1794-1796) he studied with his wonted enthusiasm, and felt none of the home-sickness which had driven him from Hamburgh. His course of study was, at first, the History of the Empire, Introduction to the Study of Civil Law, with Logic and Metaphysics, under Professors) of great celebrityHegewisch, Cramer, and Reinhold. In his next course, he discontinued his attendance on Cramer, and studied, in addition to the remaining branches, Physics and Organic Chemistry under Eimbke. His aim was to combine mental Philosophy with Physics, Mathematics, and Astronomy, not only for themselves, but as a means to his “ darling pursuits, Ancient Literature and History.” Here he contracted friendships with many men of eminence in their day, and became favourably known to individuals who were able to promote his interests. Through them, he attracted the notice of Count Schimmelmann, the Danish minister of Finance, whose private
* Compare Lebensnachrichten, vol. i. p. 31, with a most interesting letter in Lieber, p. 36, &c.